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Port Orange's Olson Receives Easter Seals Highest Honor

September 14, 2012 09:10 AM
Nancy Olson (seated) with (left to right) Linda Curtis,
USTA Florida director of community tennis; and Doug Booth,
USTA Florida executive director
Nancy Olson (seated) with (left to right) Jim Beckford, Kathy Gray, USTA Florida Executive Director Doug Booth, and Olson's tennis prodigy Auburn Smith   
Port Orange's Nancy Olson received Easter Seals' highest honor, the Lily Award, for her work with the "Tennis Everyone!" program  for children, introducing kids with physical disabilities to tennis and including them alongside their typically-developing peers in local USTA Jr. Team Tennis programs.

Olson was given the award by USTA Florida (United States Tennis Association-Florida Section) Executive Director and Easter Seals Board Member Doug Booth during the Easter Seals of Volusia & Flagler Counties Annual Meeting, Sept. 13, 2012, at the Museum of Arts & Sciences in Daytona Beach.

"I was already teaching wheelchair tennis to adults, and I always taught camps while I was playing [competitively]" Olson said of becoming involved in the program. "Easter Seals originally contacted me because they were submitting the grant, and I put my two cents in, and we were lucky enough to get the grant. All the [program] kids came through Easter Seals, and I encourage more programs working with disabled kids to get involved with Easter Seals because this is where the connections are for these kids."

The Tennis Everyone! program was the result of a $15,000 grant in 2006 from the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation to Easter Seals of Volusia & Flagler Counties, in partnership with USTA Florida, to offer sports opportunities to area children with disabilities.

"Nancy was the logical choice to run the program," said Booth of the two-time Paralympian tennis silver medalist Olson. "She was instrumental in the program from the very start, and she's stayed with it since 2006, dedicating her time to make sure the program continues. This award is much deserved. I watch her teach down at the courts at Airport Road and she makes it fun for the kids."

The goal of the Tennis Everyone! grant seven years ago was to create new opportunities for young people with disabilities, ages 6-20, to participate in tennis, other recreational activities and youth organizations alongside their non-disabled peers.

"Nancy was instrumental in making this happen, because she plays in a wheelchair and she was able to relate to the kids; she was able to teach us things about working with the kids in wheelchairs that we didn't really know," said USTA Florida Director of Community Tennis Linda Curtis. "She's an amazing advocate for wheelchair tennis."

The original program in 2006 integrated 10 children with physical disabilities with 90 typically-developing children into USTA Ralleyball, the former tennis learning program that was a forerunner to the current USTA 10 and Under Tennis format. 10 and Under Tennis features smaller court sizes, racquet sizes, low-compression balls and net heights adjusted to ease kids into the sport. The format stresses sportsmanship and socialization in a team tennis atmosphere.

The launch of the program in Daytona Beach attracted a private donor who contributed $25,000 to purchase child-sized sports wheelchairs for some of the younger children in the program. Easter Seals also made use of adult sports wheelchairs that were refurbished for older children in the program.

Over the last seven years since the initial grant, Olson and her staff have worked with groups of children who have gone on to other tennis programs and sports. Olson and her staff also provide training to area coaches and program managers, and send coaches and mentors to area schools to introduce children to the basics of using a wheelchair to play tennis.

"Nancy's work has contributed to turning around the statistic of only 5 percent of disabled kids participating in sports, compared to 95 percent of able-bodied children," Booth said. "She has given so many children over the years the life skills needed to success via tennis, including communication, teamwork, and boosting self-esteem and self-confidence."

Auburn Smith, a 14-year-old wheelchair player who has been in Olson's program since the inception of Tennis Everyone!, is currently ranked No. 3 nationally in the Women's "A" Doubles wheelchair tennis rankings, No. 4 nationally in the Women's "A" singles, and No. 12 nationally in the Junior Girls' singles rankings.

Olson also recognized her volunteers that have been instrumental in assisting children with disabilities on the tennis court: Kathy Gray, Jim Beckford and Rita Gladstone. "It's been great, and hopefully it will continue to grow," Olson said of the program. "The kids can be challenging, but there is such an innocence -- they tell it like it is, and it's a lot of fun to watch them grow, and watch how their involvement in sports helps them grow and adjust through life."

For more information on Easter Seals of Volusia & Flagler Counties go to http://fl-vf.easterseals.com.






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