Tennis player Esther Vergeer has been unbeaten for 457 matches; an amazing record, made all the more spectacular by the fact she plays in a wheelchair.Priyanka Suresh email@example.com
This Dutch girl’s life story can make an inspirational movie, one that mesmerises and warms hearts of people of all ages. Born on July 18, 1981 in Woerden, Esther Vergeer developed paraplegia when she was eight due to a surgery concerning hemorrhaging blood vessels around her spine. Though it took time for the little girl of eight to realise it, this changed her life forever.
At that point becoming an athlete was a distant dream. She was trying to rebuild her life and accept that a wheelchair was going to be a part of it. While undergoing rehabilitation, she learned to play several sports on the wheelchair, as in Holland, when one loses the use of their legs, they receive a sports chair from the government. And her interest in sports got her to believe in the idea that she could still do what she thought she couldn’t. She only had to focus on her strengths.
After playing basketball at club level, she was invited into the national wheelchair basketball team and won the European championship in 1997. She started playing tennis in parallel with basketball after her first international tournament in 1996 and took it up in 1998. She picked tennis as her career as it was far more challenging and she wanted to be an individual athlete rather than a team athlete. She wanted to do things her own way, whether it is accepting defeat, taking the blame or celebrating success. And that marked the beginning of history.
Her first big win was the US Open championship which moved her from 15th position to the 2nd in world ranking. After a continuous winning streak, she moved onto the Paralympics in 2000 in Sydney where she won gold. She won the Laureus Award for Sportsperson with a disability of the year twice, winning every single elite tournament, as well as enough money to turn professional, a feat fewer than 10 men and women on a wheelchair have achieved.
Off the court, Esther is an entrepreneur. She started a sports marketing company and is the tournament director of a pro wheelchair tournament tied to men’s ATP event in Rotterdam in the Netherlands. She also runs a charity, The Esther Vergeer foundation which aims at bringing athletic opportunities to children around the world who have physical limitations.
Esther’s physical trainer Marijn Zall is also her boyfriend. They met on the tennis court as kids, grew up together and fell in love. She loves going on boat rides with him. At home, she puts on comfortable clothes and is always with her phone or computer, just like any other 20-year-old.
Esther is not just a role model but a superhero. Not just because she overcame her physical disability but because she conquered it, to an extent that it didn’t even matter to her in the pursuit of her goals. Besides technical aspects of the game, she understands that there is no difference between “perfectly-abled” tennis and wheelchair tennis with her only aim right now being, championship at Wimbledon. Undefeated, undisputed Esther is a winner, in the true sense of the word.
First Job: Intern at the National Olympic Committee as researcher.
Inspiration: Maaike Smit, former wheelchair tennis player. For her open mindedness and approachability.
Favourite TV show: Cookery shows.
Last book she read: A Woman Went to the Doctor (Dutch)
Favourite food: Sandwiches, cookies and vanilla ice cream.
Mantra in Life: The most important thing is how you see yourself. If you see yourself in a positive way, you can develop yourself and make valuable contributions to the society.