Articles

One armed tennis pro (Being Me: Alex)

October 16, 2019


* I just couldn’t see my life without
playing tennis and without having a
racket in my hand. When I’m on-court playing a match,
I guess the first thing that’s
in my head is just getting in the fight with
the other person and trying to
win every point. I just want to really push it and
know that I’ve done everything I
can. Maybe I’m doing something kind of
special, playing tennis with one
arm. Now a huge part of my dream and my
life is to inspire other people. I’ve kind of understood that
I can do that a little bit. (TINKLY PIANO MUSIC) Captions by Faith Hamblyn. Captions were made with
the support of NZ On Air. www.able.co.nz
Copyright Able 2019. I’m Alex Hunt. I’m 25 years old.
I’m from Nelson, New Zealand, and I’m currently playing tennis
on the ITF International Tennis
Federation World Tour. I grew up on a farm just
out past Wakefield, and for me, that was the best
possible place I could have
been brought up. A lot of the time I’d just be on a
little 50 two-wheeler bike chasing
Dad around, helping him move sheep. I helped him feed out to
the cattle or the sheep. It was awesome. I loved it. (PEACEFUL GUITAR MUSIC) Growing up on a farm, I was
very privileged to do that. And I know how lucky I am, but
just stoked as that I got that
opportunity. (MUSIC FADES) (ELECTRONIC REGGAE MUSIC) My family has been very supportive
of me in life and as a tennis
player. Obviously, being born with one arm,
maybe they looked after me a bit
more than normal. (MUSIC CONTINUES) And I think I was very lucky to have
two older brothers, in that respect, just to be at school if I ever
needed anything or, I guess,
if they needed anything. LAUGHS: I don’t know what I could
have done for them, but we were
always there for each other. That’s when you were born. There was quite a lot of interest
in you when you were born. I was just born with one arm, and… the umbilical cord got wrapped
around when I was still growing
inside Mum. (CHUCKLES) And I believe
it just stunted the growth. So I’ve still got my fingers and, I
guess, my whole hand is there; just
the growth of it got stunted. (CONTEMPLATIVE MUSIC) Looked pretty happy
with my arm there, eh.
Mm. It wasn’t picked up in any scans,
and when he was delivered, I was
the first one to notice, ‘Oh, he hasn’t got his hand.’
And I thought they’d just reach
in and put it back on. (LAUGHS) That was probably my dopey way
of thinking after giving birth!
Mm. And then my next thought was, ‘Oh,
wow, he’s been born into the right
family.’ And I don’t why I said that,
but it just felt like he was
with the righth people. (CHUCKLES) He was a very happy, bouncy, go-ey little fellow. Nothing stopped him. He had to
do everything his brothers did. Growing up right from
a toddler, I suppose, two older brothers, so he had… he had them to chase, I guess. Um, plenty of rivalry, for sure, whether it was running,…
(CLEARS THROAT) swimming; later on
driving a car, even. Um, so yeah, Alex certainly
benefited, I think, from having
two older brothers. That’s probably how
I got started on tennis. Ben and James early,
getting you into the tennis. READS: One day, if they give me
a racquet, I’ll kick their butt.
(LAUGHS) (LAUGHS) Right from the beginning, the first
house had a tennis court — first
grass, and then— Yes. Two generations
before my parents,… Mm.
…they had a… the foundation
was there for the court. And they played. It was a grass
surface, and then they sealed it. There’s a tennis court up
at my grandparents’ house, and we’d go up there quite a lot as
kids and have a bash round up there. So my whole family played
tennis, and, I guess, I got into it by chasing my brothers
round the court or my parents or,
I guess, there was tennis balls and tennis
racquets lying all over the house, and just fell in love
with it through them. I guess there were other sports
that I played and I loved as well, but I probably couldn’t
see my life without tennis, so that’s when I knew that was the
sport, I guess, I wanted to keep
playing. It’s a family sport —
we all love it, and we all play. My oldest brother was probably up
there in the top of New Zealand
when he was 12, so he was a very good tennis player.
And my middle brother was very good
as well. We played a lot of doubles together
and did decent, I guess. (CHUCKLES) And my dad is pretty talented —
you can just, kind of, see from the way he goes out there
on court and picks up a racquet, and I guess that’s where we may
have got a little bit of that from. And Mum is… working on her game. (LAUGHS) Did I make it?
Nah. Mum’s, obviously, been through
the game with all three of us. She goes out on court and helps me
and feeds me balls and tells me when
I’m not quite doing something right. Once you get to a certain
level in a small town, it’s quite hard to find, um, enough talent to hit with
that will stretch you. So I would spend hours on the court
just feeding balls to Alex so he
could return them. And he just told me what
I should do, and I would do it. I think living in a smaller town and
not having a lot of boys above him
to practise with, he’s had to be self-driven
and self-motivated. Um, and luckily, his nature
is that way inclined. You know, you never have
to remind him or push him. I’ve always said to all three
of them, ‘There is no limit;
you just chase your dreams, ‘and you keep going until you decide
that you don’t wanna go any further.
There’s no such thing as can’t.’ I think maybe some people might look
on and think, ‘What’s he trying to
do? I mean, it’s not possible.’ But gosh, he’s even got this far, and it’s still possible. (TINKLY ELECTRONIC MUSIC) I, kind of, started to think about
the possibilities of going over to
America to college. And then the closer I got to ending
Year 13, or Year 12, I guess, cos you have to start that process
pretty early, that was starting to
get more and more serious. And then it was, like,
‘Whoa. I’m doing this.’ And not too much longer, I’d signed
with a school over there, and I was
off. I went into college with two other
freshmen, and one of them was from
Hawaii, and one was from Germany. I guess we were, kind of, fighting
for that last spot in the team, cos
there’s six people play each match. And we were, kind of, scrapping for
number six, and I ended up snagging
that. And from there, I kind of just moved
my way up each year and ended up at
number one for my final year. I guess my first couple of years
over there, I struggled a little
bit, because I was, kind of,
going into this team atmosphere, where you wanted to do well for
them, for everyone — the coach,
the team. It wasn’t just individual,
which tennis has always been for me. But going over there to that team
environment, I think I felt the
pressure a bit more, especially having my arm. Like, I just felt if lost or if I
wasn’t playing well, that I might
be letting my team down, and it might have something
to do with my arm. Sometimes he lacked a little bit of
confidence about, you know, ‘Do they
think I should be here? ‘Do they actually want me on their
team?’ And sometimes out there on
the tour, when he goes out
to face an opponent, some opponents don’t know how to
deal with playing with someone like
Alex. So they either are really, um, admiring of him, or they can make a bit of a joke or a laugh about it to help,. cos they don’t want to lose to
someone who’s only got one arm. And he’s had that once, where the
guy at the other end was really… insulting and not behaving well. And Alex just lost his confidence
and lost his confidence, and lost
his confidence in the game. And this guy happened to have mates
on the side of the court that were
all laughing and things, and Alex thought it was about him.
So he sometimes has those kind of
mental struggles. It’s definitely a big mental game, especially if you’re having a kind
of a down patch and you’ve lost
a bit of confidence, and you may not be winning matches
at that stage. So you can have big
ups and downs. And that’s when you probably have to really tighten the screws in your
head and knuckle down and train
harder. I guess you’ve gotta give it that
little bit extra to try to get
out of that down patch. My dream is to just make
it to a grand slam, whether that’s in doubles or
mixed or singles or whatever. That’s just always been
something I look towards. I was supposed to be home just for
maybe a month over Christmas, do
some training with my coach, and then head off again to start the
new season, but that’s been delayed. I hit my head pretty hard, and
at first, I thought it was probably
just, like, a little knock and I’ll be a little bit dizzy for a moment,
and I’ll be good later that day,
but ended up being a concussion. (SHIMMERY ELECTRONIC MUSIC) * I think it was probably four months
ago now, just at the start of the
New Year. We were moving houses. And I went over to our little
cottage, where we were storing
some things. And I removed the gate as I got
there and kind of stepped inside,
and then closed the gate. And then I all of a sudden turned
to start walking in and hit
my head pretty hard. This is where I hit my head and got
my concussion. So not the coolest
place to be, but… (LAUGHS) Well, we have this wooden door
across here to keep the sheep out,
cos we have sheep grazing. And I kind of opened it
up, came in, closed it, and then turned and went to walk
in and just nailed my head on that, so quite a solid piece of wood. I just thought I’d be dizzy for a
couple of minutes and I’d come right
in half an hour or so, but ended up being a whole day. I started to get worse and worse,
and then the next two or three weeks
were even worse than that. And then it’s been going on
for, like, four months now, so I’m
starting to get better. (CHUCKLES) But a little bit gutted that it was
such a stupid thing that’s kept me
out of tennis for such a long time. In a way, it’s been really good. I
got to spend some time with my dog. I’ve had some time to sit back and
relax and not be so caught up in… in training hard. For me, moving away from
New Zealand and home — I was probably a bit of a family
guy — that was pretty tough for me. I’d never really spent that much
time away from the farm and my dogs
and family and stuff like that. I guess packing your bag
and living out of a suitcase and being away from family
and animals and stuff like that — that was probably the hardest thing
for me is being away from my dog.
(CHUCKLES) Last year — or the last five years,
I guess, being in America, and then
on tour — I think I face-timed that dog
probably every day almost, and probably more often than
not two or three times a day. So my parents probably think that
I was ringing to say hi to them, but every so often it was that
reason, but mostly the dog. So I’ve had some time to think about
the sport a lot more and what I want
to do and focus on my social media a little bit and, I guess, those
people that I’m trying to inspire
and talking to them a bit more. I get a lot of people contacting me
on social media; Instagram’s a big
one, I guess — I guess that that world’s huge now —
and I get so many cool messages from
people on there and just that they’ve seen
my story and it’s given them hope. Here he is. Here he is! That’s been awesome, helping them
and, kind of, coaching while I’ve
been home. All right. And when I say go, you’re
gonna do a little sprint to there
and back, OK? Go. Nice. And then back
into the fast feet. That silver lining for me being able
to be home with the family, training
with my coach, working on little parts of my game
has been pretty good for my tennis. It’s getting a lot better now,
but at the start of it, I was
really doing barely anything. And just in the last,
probably, two weeks, I’ve started to do a lot more on
court and just started getting back
in the gym with my trainer. Sets of three, so you’ll do over and
back on here first up. Then we’ll do
reverse outs on stumpy. Then we’ll do steps. It has actually just been
a real setback for him. We were in a really
good training space. I’d probably gotten him fitter
than I’d ever had him. This head injury that he’s had
has been really interesting. And I think for him, that thing
about a hidden injury versus
a very obvious, you know, disability of an arm that’s not
there and the difference in the
perception of it has been a big learn
and a big grow-up for him. So we’ve just had to come through
the rehab of that with some support, um, and on tender feet, really. OK. Go to the first leg. Chuck this
on. Pull out on it just as you go
over. Put it on stumpy as well. Put it up to elbow.
Oh yeah. Stay down in front.
You won’t manage it up there.
(CHUCKLES) OK. Foot on. Pull out as you go
over. Yeah. That’s better. That’s
better. Feel the difference? Core. Core. Yeah. Much better. Lengthen it
out. Lengthen it out. Out you come.
Knee in control. Use your core as you’re landing.
Flick it as you’re taking off.
Good. Much better. Two more. Me and Claire go way back, actually.
I’ve known her probably since
I was born. She knew my parents and helped them
out with the fact that I was born
with one arm. She’s worked with Paralympic
athletes and stuff like that before, so she knows us kind of people
really well. (CHUCKLES) She was probably the first person I
texted and got in touch with when I
did hit my head. Just the knowledge she has about everything as well as,
probably, head knocks and injuries
and stuff like that, she was one of the first
people I went to. So she’s been awesome mentally,
and physically, I guess. (CHUCKLES) She probably loves trying to find
things I can’t do and getting the
best out of me, which is unreal. But I try to give it back to her
just as hard and just give her a
bit of something back. (CHUCKLES) Better. Get your hand off your butt.
(CHUCKLES) I’m trying
to get that muscle, though. I know you are, but I will do that.
You keep your hands even, so you’re
focused. He’s fun. We have a lot of
laughs. We’re good mates. And I have to work hard to make
him work, cos he’s really, really good at cracking a joke when
the going gets tough so he can stop,
so he needs a good kick. You’re going for it. I don’t care
about the landing; I want control
in your core. And now you’re screwed it.
It’s all right. (CHUCKLES) Oh, that’s easy.
I’ve got it. (LAUGHS)
(LAUGHS) Well, transfer it on to the other
side. Come on! Yeah. (LAUGHS)
(LAUGHS) Left brain, right brain —
switch it over. He doesn’t compete with any other
players with disabilities — I don’t think he’s ever played
anyone with a disability; he only ever plays against
able-bodied players. As far as the Nelson
region is concerned, I think he probably would be number
one or two in the Nelson region if
he was playing here regularly. So he’s playing elite tennis. He is
an able-bodied elite tennis player
with a little bit of a difference on how we have to some of the things
for him and how he needs to
technically do things. That’s it. Try and bring that
racquet more into the outwards. My coach, John Gardiner, he’s just
an awesome guy. I’ve known him for
a very long time now. I worked with him before
I went to college. And then, I guess, whenever I’m home now,
I see him and work with him. Good. Slow down. I remember seeing him for the first
time, being pretty blown away at
what he could, uh, do as an 8- or 9-year-old, and his
skill level already, at that age, was pretty high. The last two years when he’s been
travelling the world, it’s been very
exciting and made me very proud and, probably more than anything, proud
that he has chosen tennis as his
pathway in life. Really, when you spend a bit of time
with him on court or off court, you soon forget that there’s part of
an arm missing. Well, the big thing
is the backhand. Most players these days are playing
a two-handed backhand, so he’s
always walked out on a court, and that’s the obvious go-to for his
opponent — it looks like the easy
point. So he’s had to work very hard
on developing the backhand. We’ve just stripped down my game
and worked on a few things, trying
to kink out a few issues in my game. At times I just wanna go for it, and
my fitness is down and everything
like that, so it’s frustrating, but it’s awesome to be
getting back into it. I’ve played my whole life with my
prosthetic on and put the ball on
the end and thrown it up. And then last year, in Thailand,
actually, I injured my stump, so
I couldn’t wear my prosthetic. I was thinking, ‘How am I gonna
serve? What am I gonna do?’ * Last year, I injured my stump,
so I couldn’t wear my prosthetic. And then for the next probably four
or five days, I couldn’t wear it. And I thought, ‘Well, I need to
train, and I need to be out there
doing fitness and stuff.’ So, I was with my friend,
and we trained that whole week.
And I played without my arm on. And just the freedom —
it’s hard to explain, but
the freedom that gave me, to be out there without this…
without this extra piece on my…
on my arm, which that extra piece is amazing,
and it’s helped me so much —
but without that on court, I just felt freer, like I could open
up and there wasn’t this thing
hanging off me. (TINKLY PIANO MUSIC) I was in Australia in the middle
of last year. He was in Thailand
or Vietnam. And he texted me in classic form. He normally texts about one word per
text, so when your hear your phone
going, ‘Ding, ding, ding, ding,’ you know it’s him, and you’ve gotta
read through about 20 texts. So he, in pretty blunt country-boy
fashion, said to me, ‘You’re not
gonna like this, ‘but I’ve just hit a few balls
without my arm on, and it’s way
better.’ And I’m thinking, ‘Really? ’10, 12 years in to playing tennis,
you make this decision now?’ So if you can hold
that on your own now. And I got boxes of balls and went
out there and practised that every
day. Every day, I got that little bit
more confidence. And I was thinking,
‘Gee. Maybe I can do this.’ It wasn’t pretty, but I was getting
the ball in the court. I’ad decided that was awesome, I’m
gonna play like that, and that
was… that was me. And then I got home for Christmas,
and I was ready to play the
New Zealand Nationals. I’ve never been more nervous than
I was to go out in front of other
New Zealanders. I guess in Asia, no one knows me, so
I can just go out, and I’m free, and
it doesn’t matter. But to come back and have coaches
from New Zealand and the kids
looking at me and thinking, ‘Why is he doing that?’
I felt a little bit naked out there
without my arm, and so it was weird. No one’s probably ever seen someone
take their arm off, put it at the
back of the court. In my head, I think I can
do everything, and I like
to try to give things a go. So for me, there was no other way;
I was just gonna try and do it. I normally find a way to at least
manage how to get through there
somehow. It might not be the best way, but I
fudge my way through somehow, so…
(CHUCKLES) If I get this closer
than your ball is?
If you get closer than that, I’ll buy you a dozen.
Ooh. Yeah, there you go. Oh, you might
wanna start again, though, eh.
A bit of pressure now. It’s a confident putt,
though. Oh! Hello! The first time I met him probably
formally was at college, I’d say.
We knew of each other. I mean, the first time I came across
him was playing soccer against him. And he was really good at soccer
too. I’m thinking, ‘Who the hell’s
this guy?’ And then we knew of each other, and
then going through college, we never
had a class until Year 13, and we were both in
the same PE class. (TUTS, LAUGHS) Doing golf in PE, like, you know,
it’s something you can just pick
up straight away. So I tried to help most people out.
And then Alex, I didn’t actually
realise he was freaking out, going into that golf thing,
cos he’d never played golf before. And so yeah, I helped him out a
little bit, and he put in a lot
of work. You got one-handed,
I’ll go one-handed.
(SCOFFS) That’s a joke. And then before you know it, the
only person to beat him in golf
in PE was me, and that’s it — he beat everyone else there. Oh! How do you do it like that? Christ! It’s just like a little flick. (LAUGHS)
That’s gone. (LAUGHS) (LAUGHS)
(SIGHS) I think it’s important to
have, uh, other hobbies, um, or things you just love doing
outside of your sport or whatever
you’re choosing to do in life, um, and for me, that’s golf and fishing
and a few other different sports. (SIGHS) Juicy piece, eh? Got a big one. (GRUNTS) And probably another thing that
I didn’t think I could do was
filleting a fish. Ooh, I’m getting a bite.
Hey, it’s a snapper, Dad. Good one. Oi, I’m getting a bite over here.
Bring it in closer. Come on. I love fishing. There’s nothing more
I love doing than sitting out there
with Dad fishing, or whether it’s for trout
or snapper or whatever it is. And I kind of feel bad for Dad,
because he gets dragged out there, and he probably spends a lot of time
taking my fish off the hook as well
as his. When I was younger, he used to bait
my hook, but, obviously, I’ve found
a way to do that. The part where I felt the worst for
Dad was when we would get back and
caught some fish, he had to fillet them himself. And
sometimes it can take quite a while
to fillet a fish. So since we moved a bit closer
to the sea, I’ve been kind of…
the first few times we went out, I was just kind of watching and
seeing how he does it and trying
to learn a little bit. And then more recently when we went
out, I, kind of, was watching the
first couple again. And then I said to him, ‘Do you
reckon I can do that, maybe?
Like, I could maybe try one. ‘Does it matter if I screw
it up?’ (CHUCKLES) And so we went out, and we got
a knife each, and he, kind of, taught me or took me through
the stages of doing it. Tennis is awesome, cos it makes me
feel good and know that I can do
something well. But to have those other little
things that I figure out is just —
I dunno — it makes you feel real
accomplished after that. Go too fast. Dropped it a little bit.
I did get the first
fish in the boat. And the first rock.
(CHUCKLES) So, there’s a few things that drive
me, and the first thing would be
inside here — uh,… myself and me wanting to be the best
I can at tennis and, I guess, as a
person as well. But the biggest thing pushing me is
that for those other kids like me
that are born, just being able to change those
kids’ lives or the way they look
at life or the way they look at little
things in life that they can’t quite
manage or they don’t think they can, but if they give it
a go, they can do it. Those are the things that inspire
me and motivate me to keep trying
to get better for them, but also for myself. (CHUCKLES) Captions by Faith Hamblyn. Captions were made with
the support of NZ On Air. www.able.co.nz
Copyright Able 2019. The Attitude Awards celebrate the
success and achievements of Kiwis
living with disability. Go to attitudeawards.org
for details.

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