Paralyzed Veterans of America members take on Toronto for the 2017 Invictus Games
By John Groth
RJ Anderson serves to Team Australia during the tennis match at the 2017 Invictus Games. (Photo by Christopher Di Virgilio).
R.J. Anderson went to some great lengths to deck himself out for Sunday morning’s 2017 Invictus Games wheelchair tennis doubles match at Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto against Team Australia.
Besides his United States red-, white- and blue-striped uniform and blue U.S. hat with red U.S. letters, the Army veteran and Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) member added a few other custom items to his wardrobe – buying some red-, white- and blue-striped and starred socks and red shoes from Eastbay and adding a red-, white- and blue-starred and striped arm sleeve and some blue athletic tape to one of his arms.
Admittedly, he planned most of the outfit months ago.
“It’s my third go-around so I just really wanted to I guess show up and show out. You know we’re here and it’s a blessing to be here. So, you know, why not look good while you’re doing it?” said Anderson, who is competing in his third Invictus Games and was injured after he sustained a C7 and T4/5 spinal-cord injuries in a motorcycle accident. “I needed tape, so he [our athletic trainer] just happened to have stars and stripes [this morning]. So I said, ‘hey, let’s do it.’ I’m matching everywhere else, so let’s add to.”
Unfortunately, the colorful outfit didn’t spark a win. Team Australia defeated Anderson and U.S. teammate and PVA member Sharona Young, 6-0, in a round robin match Sunday morning. That left the U.S. with an 0-2 record after falling to Team Canada 2, 6-5 in a tiebreaker, during Saturday’s first round robin match. They had rallied from a 4-1 deficit to tie the match at five. Matches only go to one set and the first team to six games wins. New Zealand defeated Team USA, 6-0, later Sunday afternoon and had another match against one of the United Kingdom teams Monday before the semifinals start Tuesday.
US Navy veteran Sharona Young on the court in Toronto for the 2017 Invictus Games. (Photo by Christopher Di Virgilio).
More than 550 athletes from 17 nations are competing in the Invictus Games, which run through Sept. 31 in Toronto. Wheelchair tennis and track and field events occurred Sunday.
It was an interesting and different experience for both Anderson and Young, playing in high 80-degree heat and plenty of humidity. Anderson doesn’t wear sunglasses and he struggled serving. But he loved that they played on a middle-of-the-square downtown area in Nathan Phillips Square converted to kind of look like a center tennis court at a major tennis event like Wimbledon.
“It was fantastic,” said Anderson.
A Navy veteran who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2013, Young admitted she has sometimes felt overwhelmed by the people and the whole Invictus Games experience. She said Anderson has helped her, telling her to just relax and enjoy the event. One of the Australian players even tried to help Young relax by telling her to take her time and making her laugh and offering her a little koala pin, which she put on her jersey.
“I’ve been enjoying, just taking it all in, just seeing how the other players play and looking at kind of what they’re doing,” says Young, who will also compete in handcycling Wednesday and Thursday this week. “And like I’ve said they’ve all been really great, giving me tips, telling me some things to work on. Watch the ball – that’s the big one I’m getting. Like keep your eye on the ball, watch the ball, don’t get overwhelmed with everything around, focus on the ball.”
It’s a spot Anderson can relate to. Last year, he was the rookie. He had just started wheelchair tennis last year and the Chicago resident played it at the Invictus Games after just two or three months of practice. He liked the sport so much he decided to do it year-round and do it again this year. He worked with a local pro, Paul Moran, and practiced three days a week at a Chicago tennis facility.
He plans on participating in wheelchair tennis for the foreseeable future and he expects to play in more United States Tennis Association wheelchair tennis tournaments next season – months ahead of the 2018 Invictus Games’ schedule.
Still, to Anderson, the Invictus Games are more than just the athletic competition.
“It’s not about winning,” he says. “It’s all about the camaraderie, sharing the agenda for the idea of hope and purpose.”
2017 Invictus Games Sunday Results Wheelchair Tennis Nathan Phillips Square Toronto
United Kingdom Team 2 6, Canada Team 2 0
Netherlands 6, New Zealand Team 2 3
Australia Team 1 6, United States 0
Australia Team 2 6, Canada Team 1 0
New Zealand Team 1 6, United Kingdom Team 2 1
United Kingdom Team 1 6, New Zealand Team 2 0
New Zealand Team 1 6, United States 0
United Kingdom Team 1 6, Canada Team 1 0
Australia Team 1 6, Canada Team 2 3