No soft serves needed
One-armed tennis ace pursues pro dreamJONATHAN MCKEOWN
Alex Hunt is loving life right now. He is back in Nelson while university breaks in the United States, catching up with friends and family and finally taking a breath after eight non-stop months in San Francisco.
The physical training and the school work have been demanding, but Alex, 19, says the experience is worth every ounce of sweat and every hour with his head buried in a book. Yet, willpower and fortitude are some of Alex's strongest traits.
Born and bred in Nelson, he grew up kicking round on the farm with his brothers, driving motorbikes and paddock cars, but his main love has always been tennis, playing since he was 5 years old.
He was recognised as one of the top juniors in New Zealand and ultimately his prowess with the racket earned him a sport and academic scholarship to St Mary's College, where he has been playing division one college tennis against some of the best players in the US.
He says his short-term goal is to move up the rankings within his St Mary's team from six to three, and long term he hopes to break into the professional ranks and earn a living. However, the main goal is more sweeping.
"If there is one thing I could get out of my tennis career, it would be to show other people that nothing is impossible," he said during the filming of a short documentary produced by the Nelson Mail.
"I don't see my arm as a disability, [it is] more of a positive thing that makes me want to work harder."
Alex was born without a left arm. For him, the reality has never been too troubling and for this, he gives credit to his family.
"Being born with one arm has never really bothered me, growing up it has been second nature to me.
"The way my family has supported me throughout my life has been amazing, just from the way they treat me the same as my brothers and the way my brothers treat me the same as each other."
Alex reckons he is a bit of a gun rally driver after years of practice alongside his brother Ben, who is currently leading the New Zealand Rally Championship. And, it was through his parents and older brothers that Alex became hooked on tennis.
With the determination to succeed and natural sportsmanship running in the family, Alex was always odds-on to make an impact in one field or another. He could have been a Paralympian, and may still be one day, but for now Alex likes a level playing field.
"When I am out on the tennis court, some people, when I have finished a match with them, only just realise that I have a prosthetic. Some people have even questioned whether it is an advantage in serving."
Alex reluctantly admitted that playing with a prosthetic "might" affect his balance and movement around the court, yet he has had a lot of help from his Tasman Tennis Club coach and mentor Kolie van Zyl.
Originally from South Africa, Van Zyl was one of the top three juniors in South Africa and played on the pro-tour for a year after high school.
He was able to help Alex prepare in many ways, having received a scholarship to an American University as well before playing and coaching tennis for 13 years in the States, working with some of the top junior players and International Federation players.
"When I started as head coach at the Tasman Tennis Club, I began coaching Alex to prepare him for his aspirations of playing in the US," said Van Zyl. "We work very well together and my background in the US with high performance coaching was something that I could share with him."
Van Zyl said it was Alex's "determination and hard work" which got him the scholarship and his positive attitude is missed at the Richmond courts. "When Alex is in Nelson, he is a real role model for the younger up and coming tennis players," said Van Zyl.
However, the scholarship is not the end game for Alex and the effort continues. He said training at college is "pretty intense", starting with three hours of tennis a day, a gym session and a speedwork session followed by schoolwork which is a "big part of life" over there.
Though, when he gets some spare time, he enjoys spending it with friends, taking in the sights and sounds of college life in California.
"Life at college over in America has been amazing so far, from the people to the tennis, my team-mates," said Alex. "It has just been amazing and I can't wait to get back."
- © Fairfax NZ News