A British Tennis Player is World Number 1, has been world champion 5 times in the last 7 years and has won 16 Super Series titles. No you’re not dreaming and It’s not Andy Murray! Meet Peter Norfolk, A wheelchair tennis legend and sporting unsung hero. He is “The Quadfather” and a double Paralympic Champion.
The 50 year old from Hampshire was injured in a motorbike accident in 1979 breaking and was left with spinal damage and in a wheelchair. He spent ten months in rehabilitation at Stoke Mandeville – the home of the Paralympic Games, before discovering wheelchair tennis at a demonstration event ten years later. He described the moment when he first played as “like a spark going off in my brain – you can do this, this is the sport for you” and so armed with a passion for the sport a determined Norfolk turned up to his local tennis centre informing them of his desire to be the best. He was met with a coach who saw no boundaries to him playing – saw him as a challenge and helped him to quickly grow into the top of the sport. Norfolk is a sports addict and before his accident he played football, squash, cricket, rugby and did cross country and is naturally athletic and so picked up tennis incredibly quickly. The more he trained, the more he wanted to train and as soon as he could he entered a national tournament and won it. He never looked back. One of the attractions of wheelchair tennis for Norfolk is that “wheelchair tennis is tennis” the only difference being that the wheelchair players get two bounces to reach the ball. This means that he could play with his able bodied counterparts – and often beat them too!
Wheelchair tennis turned professional in 1992 with the NEC tour, set up by the International Tennis Foundation (ITF) and Norfolk joined it from the outset, even whilst it was still very small and the rewards were minimal. Now, the tour has 150 events in 36 countries and there are 10000 people playing wheelchair tennis around the world.
For Norfolk his sport is about making the most of his ability rather than negating his disability, and this became ever more important in 2000 when he started to lose the strength in his right hand. when it was established that this could not be restored and that he could no longer hold a racket without it being taped to his hand began to play in the Quad division – for people who have 3 or more limbs affected by a disability.
In 2004 in Athens was the first time that the Quad division had been included in the Paralympics and he won a gold in the singles competition and a silver in the doubles and then in 2008 he successfully defended his title in the singles and got a bronze in the doubles.
Norfolk is now aiming for 2012 – he is determined to defend his gold medal and in doing so is aiming to pick up as many super series and masters titles as he can and regaining the his title at the US open, lost earlier this year to his closest challenger, David Wagner.
What makes Norfolk’s success even more incredible is the manner in which he has done it – he has to fit his training in around a full time job running his own company that builds sports wheelchairs, and looking after his young son Joseph. He is inspirational and a true unsung hero of the sporting world.