Everyone Deserves the Chance to Play” was much more than just a T-shirt motto for those taking part in the UCF’s inaugural Adaptive Tennis Day this spring. Hosted for free by the UCF Recreation & Wellness Center on May 31 at the United States Tennis Association (USTA) National Campus in Lake Nona, Florida, participants of all ages and abilities joined volunteers to share in the joys of tennis.
Jill Fjelstul, an associate professor at the UCF Rosen College of Hospitality Management and founder of the non-profit Champions at Play, hosted the event with the goal of providing a fun and memorable experience for all those involved experiencing the first-hand experience in her own family. positive impact that sport can have on people with intellectual disabilities.
“When this current opportunity was presented, I was all in,” says Fjelstul.
Many of the participants came from UCF’s Inclusive Education Services (IES) program, which provides adults with learning disabilities ages 18-30 with an inclusive, comprehensive, non-degree-seeking college experience. Knights Exemplar, a registered student organization with UCF, further supports IES students in these pursuits. It is based on the principle of bridging the gap so that IES students can get the most out of their experiences at UCF.
Taylor Duffy ’20 co-founded Knights Exemplar during his college days and was named the University’s Student Organization of the Year in 2020. anationally ranked tennis player in his youth before an elbow injury derailed his competitive careerhe led on-court instruction for the adults and was also instrumental in creating the event.
After graduating with a health sciences degree, Duffy has remained involved with UCF reaching out to students and alumni. He was also appointed to the Orange County Disability Advisory Board by Mayor Jerry Demings, and was elected vice chairman last year.
More than forehands and backhands, we wanted participants to leave the event with newfound friendships and confidence,” says Duffy. “In many of them I recognized the same excitement I had when I attended my very first tennis camp.
The verdict was unanimous, from the parents of the younger participants to the UCF students and volunteers. A parent, who preferred to remain anonymous, says the enthusiasm of the volunteers and Fjelstul was a highlight.
The patience and perseverance of the staff in working with my son was truly remarkable,” said the parent. “In the end my son responded to the instructions and seemed to be having a good time. I appreciated that Jill came over and hit some balls with him. This adaptive tennis program can really make a difference in the lives of these children.
The event also offered UCF students like Lois Hale the chance to re-introduce themselves to the sport. Others, like Ann Truong, were much newer to the game.
“It was so nice to be able to play tennis with everyone,” Truong says. “We all picked up the game pretty quickly, but the best part of the event was that we got to make some jokes here and there.”
Fellow student ZakariyaElkhayat called the experience an unforgettable experience.
“It was remarkable to see everyone having fun and pushing outside their comfort zone,” Elkkhayat says. “I can’t wait to go to the next event.”
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