Top-ranked wheelchair tennis player began his path at UTA



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Posted on December 8, 2011 at 9:40 PM

Updated Friday, Dec 9 at 11:16 AM

SOUTHLAKE - The first thing you notice about Stephen Welch is not that he's restricted to a wheelchair, but he seems to be at his best when he sits in one.

He's the top ranked wheelchair tennis player in the country.

As a youngster, Welch played soccer, football and baseball, before his athletic career took a dramatic turn.
"He was playing baseball and we found out he had Leg Calve Perthes," said his mother, Judy Welch.
Leg Calve Perthes is a degenerative bone condition, which meant his athletic career would be restricted to a wheelchair.
"He was just extremely competitive and a phenomenal athlete, but he also went through a lot of adversity as a child," said his brother, Jim Welch. "He had a lot of medical issues, pain and surgeries. He had to be in a wheelchair and he also had a brace that went between his legs, and he was able to overcome that and turn something really bad and turn it and make it into something really good."
Recently, Welch returned from the ParaPan American games in Mexico, where he won a gold medal in men's doubles competition, as well as a bronze in the singles event.
Welch has competed in the last four Paralympic Games and has the medals to prove it. Since 1992, he has won more than 100 major titles.
Welch discovered his talents at UTA, when he played for the late Jim Hayes on their wheelchair basketball team. He won two national championships playing for Hayes, even though his mother didn't want him to play.
"Oh no, I didn't want him in that," Judy said. "I knew they would fall out and get hit and all that, but he went out on the court and that was it."
These days tennis is his game.
"When I played a long time ago, the speed was more important, so players sat lower, so you could get more wind and be faster, like a basketball player," Welch said. "But now players sit taller."
"When we talk to people about taking it up, we talk about how it's like playing baseball and soccer at the same time, because you move to a moving ball, and then you have to swing at it," said Mia Poorman, general manager of the Southlake Tennis Center. "These guys are able to do that in a wheelchair, which is remarkable. So we have an enormous amount of respect for people who play wheelchair tennis."
While Welch has limited ability to move around on his feet, he says that's not uncommon in wheelchair sports.
"I'd say that's probably the biggest myth in wheelchair sports, that you’re confined to the chair," Welch said. "Yeah, like I said, there are a million disabilities and some of them absolutely are confined to the chair and a lot of others are not. Like when we were in college, we all rolled into the gym and 80 percent of the players would jump out of their chair and go hit the weights and then two of the others wouldn't. And people were like, 'Hmmm, that's interesting.'"
Welch said wheelchair sports were a huge part of being to move away from able-bodied sports.
"I got in there and found a lot of people that were just like me, even some worse off, so immediately I had a healthy attitude about it," Welch said.