Do you know who the world’s No. 1 wheelchair tennis player is?
That’s David Wagner for you folks! He is the 39 year old from Walla Walla Valley who had won three Paralympic gold medals and four Grand Slam singles titles. He is the guy who planned on being an elementary school teacher but became what he is today – a champion in all sense of the word.
Avid Basketball Player
Before his freak beach accident in 1995, David Wagner was an avid basketball player. He played a lot during his high school days at Walla Walla High School. He took to a Walla Walla Community College tennis tryout when he noticed he was packing extra pounds around his midsection. He was a freshman back then in 1994 when he first tried tennis.
Avid Tennis Player
Since he made it to the tennis tryouts, Wagner said he couldn’t get enough of the sport. Late night practice sessions with tennis buddies allowed him to learn more about tennis. Still, he made friends with anyone that had to do with tennis, hoping to learn the good stuff from them. And when everything seems to be going his way, tragedy struck.
The Accident that Changed it All
A 1995 accident on the beach while on vacation in California playing Frisbee with friends left him paralyzed when he tried to jump over a wave which didn’t get high enough causing him to slam his head into the ocean floor and jack-knifed his body. Life was never the same and easy for Wagner after his accident. Fortunately, he had a very good support group whom he could call any time he felt that he was having a rough or tough day, just to vent out some frustration. This group was comprised of his friends, family and the Walla Walla community.
To make the long story short, Wagner finished a Spokane rehab program, went back and finished up school, and went to WC University for his elementary education degree. During his senior year, he signed up for a Rick Draney-taught wheelchair tennis camp. Draney was a top quadriplegic player in the world at that time.
Wagner surprisingly caught up with the tennis buff in him after struggling with his first few tries at the wheelchair tennis camp. As he understood the game in a different perspective, he became better at it, earning his first of many crystal awards that would follow, for an amateur tournament in 2000. In 2001 he turned professional. But his 2 ½ years as a professional player won him no competition. So, Wagner continued to learn how he could be better. And when he figured out how, he started winning, again.
In 2003, Wagner was ranked the No. 1 US quadriplegic player. Currently, he rightfully earned an Australian Open singles title, two US Open singles titles and five Masters single championship titles. And for the last 10-plus years Wagner ranked in the top 3 at all times.
According to Wagner, his sustained success may be attributed to his tireless and unwavering commitment to be the best; to get better; to be the best tennis player there is. Wagner won the US Open doubles title with Nick Taylor as his partner on September 7 this year. Wagner still couldn’t believe at what he had accomplished so far. He couldn’t have dreamt of even playing in the US Open.
When his playing days are over, Wagner plans on starting a foundation to offer the same opportunity he had to the paralyzed children. Isn’t this a cool “what’s next” for Wagner?