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October 26, 2004 11:09 AM
Vietnam Vet Embraces Chance to Play in USA League Tennis 3.0 Senior National Championships held in Palm Springs, Calif.

John Johnston (first left) with his 3.0 Senior Gainesville Team teammates
(back row, l-r): Steve Ellard, Miguel Tellado, Ray Feinberg, Stanley Su, Bill Wilkerson and Ned Gvozdic.
(front row, l-r): Johnny Johnston, Abe Kattawar, Allan Pither and Rich Romano.

John Johnston, captain of the 3.0 Senior men’s team from Gainesville, Fla., became the first wheelchair tennis player to play against able-bodied players at a USA League Tennis National Championships. He competed with his team, representing the USA Tennis Florida Section, in the USA League Tennis presented by Lincoln 3.0 Senior National Championships held at the Riviera Resort & Racquet Club and Moore Tennis Academy in Palm Springs, Oct. 15-17.

In order to lead his team in Palm Springs, Johnny, as his friends call him, declined playing in the Quickie U.S. Open USTA National Wheelchair Championship in San Diego – a prestigious event he has played since 1980 and holds five titles from. “This is the chance of a lifetime,” he said. “This is huge for wheelchair tennis and a tremendous honor for me.”

Although his team did not win the 3.0 Senior Championships in Palm Springs, Johnny and doubles partner Rich Romano won their match in a dramatic third set tie-breaker against Mel Brown of Topeka, Kan., and John Weber of St. Overland Park, Kan., who represented the USTA Missouri Valley Section.

In addition to his role as captain of the USA Tennis Florida men’s team, Johnny is coach of the girls’ tennis team at Buchholtz High School in Gainesville. His girls have been champs four out of the five years he has coached them. He has also coached nationally-ranked wheelchair tennis players Beth Arnoult and Julia Dorsett.

Johnny lost the use of his legs after being shot three times in Vietnam. Coming from a family of seven children – five brothers and two sisters – Johnny’s competitive nature inspired him to try tennis. His younger brother, Joey, took him out on the court one day and blasted balls by him. Determined to get better, Johnny took lessons and came back with a vengeance and a love of the game.

He entered his first able-bodied tournament without letting tournament director Dan Dwyer, owner of Point-Set Indoor Racquet Club in Oceanside, N.Y., know he was wheelchair bound. When he showed up the day before the tournament to determine what division he would play in, Dan said, “You gotta be kidding me.” But after watching Johnny excel on the court, Dan happily entered Johnny in the next tournament. Dan and Johnny joined forces and launched wheelchair tennis competitions on the East coast in 1975. Dan donated court time to wheelchair players and offered free lessons. Back then, they played one bounce instead of the two bounces they play with now.

At age 56, Johnny reflects on how the game of tennis has affected his life. “I know I wouldn’t have done half the stuff I have done.” Johnny has been all over the world competing in international wheelchair tennis tournaments in locations such as France, Holland and Japan to name a few. “Tennis is a great game that anyone can play for the rest of their life,” he said. “It’s the game of a lifetime.”






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