When some of the Southeast’s best wheelchair tennis players come to Augusta, Cole Wooten will be right alongside them.
The 14-year-old will put his tennis skills on display at the United States Tennis Association-sanctioned Wheelchair Tennis Championship sponsored by the Walton Foundation for Independence. The event runs from Friday, August 2 to Sunday, August 4 at the Newman Tennis Center.
A relative newcomer to the sport, Wooten has been a member of the USTA and playing tennis since both of his feet were amputated in March of 2010 because of a rare disease called epidermolysis bullosa. He’ll compete in the men’s “C” category playing doubles and singles. He defines his style on the court not in tennis terms but rather in the positive outlook that he projects.
“I do my best,” Wooten said. “That’s all I can do. As long as I play my best, I still win even if I lose.”
He won a doubles tournament earlier in the year in Nashville, Tenn., but the end result doesn’t necessarily come into play.
“Winning or losing doesn’t matter to me,” Wooten said. “As long as I’m having fun and as long as I’m doing my best.”
His mother, Pam, appreciates how the Walton Foundation helps him.
“The Walton Foundation has really supported him through tennis,” she said, “It’s made him more confident just in his day-to-day life being able to play sports and that type of thing.”
His coach Donald Shapiro, who has been competing in wheelchair tennis for 33 years, sees promise in Wooten.
“He’s getting better,” said Shapiro. “He started at 11 in a sport he never played in his life in a wheelchair he’d never been in in his life. His wheelchair skills are moving along better than his tennis skills, but they’re getting much better. The more he plays, the faster it will come. If you do it every day, you’re going to get good at it.”
Though he’s up-and-coming in tennis, he’s already leaving his mark on the track-and-field circuit and hopes to be a member of the U.S. Paralympic Team.
“That’s a huge goal for me,” Wooten said. “I’m actually trying to shoot for 2016...There’s a lot to do before you can get on the Paralympic team.”
At the 2013 National Junior Disability Championships July 10-13 in Rochester, Minn., Wooten won the 200-, 400-, 800- and 1500 meter wheelchair race in the 16 and under T54 category while coming in fourth in the 100. He also took first in discus.
He trains for his races by pushing himself to and from the local gas station about a half mile away from his house, but is doing a new kind of training now in anticipation of trying out for the Lakeside High School track team where he’s a rising freshman.
”He just got some running legs – cheetah feet – in February,” said Pam Wooten. “So he’s in physical therapy twice a week training how to use them so he can try out for the school track team. He does that through Walton Rehab, actually. They’re really, really getting him to a level where I feel like he’ll succeed.
Wooten, who plans on joining JROTC at Lakeside, has mixed feelings about high school.
“I think it will be more difficult than middle school and I like the people at Stallings, but I have some old friends that are already there that I’ll get to see again.”