Brad Parks to receive ITF’s highest honour

Brad Parks’ story is of how one man used a cruel twist of fate to create something that has changed the lives of thousands of people.

Brad Parks was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2010   -  ITF

Brad Parks, the man who founded wheelchair tennis, will receive the ITF's highest accolade, the Philippe Chatrier Award, at the 2016 ITF World Champions Dinner on May 31 in Paris at the Pavillon Cambon Capucines. Wheelchair tennis is celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2016.

The Philippe Chatrier Award, named after the former ITF President, was introduced in 1996 and is awarded each year for outstanding contributions to the game of tennis. Billie Jean King, John McEnroe, Martina Navratilova, the All England Club, and 2015 Award winner Mary Carillo are among the other former recipients.

Parks’ story is of how one man used a cruel twist of fate to create something that has changed the lives of thousands of people. In 1976, while competing in a freestyle skiing competition in Utah at the age of 18, he landed badly after a jump and was paralysed from the waist down. Having played tennis before his accident, he began wondering during his long rehabilitation whether the sport could be played in a wheelchair.

In hospital, Parks met wheelchair athlete and recreational therapist Jeff Minnebraker, and they began working on ideas and rules for a new sport. Minnebraker started building lightweight sports wheelchairs, and soon the pair were touring the United States to promote wheelchair tennis.

Parks led exhibitions and clinics to teach the sport to disabled adults and children throughout the 1980s. The National Foundation of Wheelchair Tennis (NFWT) was born in 1980 and a ten-circuit tournament was started that culminated with the US Open wheelchair tennis championships, held in Parks’ native California.

In 1988, Parks became the inaugural president of the new International Wheelchair Tennis Federation (IWTF) while continuing to compete on the circuit. He was the No. 1 ranked player from 1980 to 1989. Wheelchair tennis quickly became one of the world’s fastest growing wheelchair sports, earning entry into the Paralympic Games in 1992, where Parks and his great rival, the late Randy Snow, won doubles gold for USA.

The sport became fully integrated into the ITF in 1998, making wheelchair tennis the first disability sport to achieve such a union at international level. The Wheelchair Tennis Tour originated in 1992 with 11 international tournaments, and it has grown to its current total of over 150 tournaments in more than 40 countries, offering over $2 million in prize money.

Parks was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2010, while the Brad Parks Award is presented annually by the ITF to an individual or organisation that has made a significant contribution to wheelchair tennis.

ITF President David Haggerty said: “As wheelchair tennis celebrates its 40th anniversary, it is fitting that we honour one of the most inspirational figures in our sport. Brad Parks’ vision and perseverance have enabled wheelchair tennis to become one of the fastest growing Paralympic sports, and provided opportunities for thousands of children and adults. We are delighted to present him with the Philippe Chatrier Award.”

Parks said: “I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the ITF in awarding me the Phillip Chatrier Award. I look back over the last 40 years and all that I can say is that I never thought wheelchair tennis would be where it is today. The ITF has been so supportive and I can't thank them enough for all they have done to make wheelchair tennis one of the greatest wheelchair sports.”

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