November 10th, 2014
Broward Blog: Army Helicopter Medal Winner Soars at Wheelchair Tennis
Stu Contant makes what we might call “Contant contact” on the tennis court. But after a 2002 Army helicopter accident in Afghanistan and two spinal surgeries, the Boca Raton native has had to play his tennis in a new way – in a wheelchair.
The 2013 USTA Florida Wheelchair Player of the Year has, in just 2-1/2 short years on the wheelchair tennis circuit, soared to No. 7 nationally in the A Division. He catapulted to No. 1 in the C Division in just a few months, and then quickly rose to No. 2 in the B rankings the following year, roaring past wheelchair athletes who’d been playing far longer than him. Now, just six other wheelchair players separate him from the Open Division of professionals.
Excellent in baseball, softball, and golf prior to his military injury, the wounded warrior is thrilled to compete athletically after the accident that changed his life. The former chief warrant officer can walk slowly for a short period of time; but the running required for almost any sport is out of the question. It’s not surprising that he’s competing athletically despite not having the use of his legs; his motto is, “Never give up.” Stu put in six more years in the Army after his accident, even getting back into the chopper at times as an instructor pilot.
The Air Medal with Valor recipient learned wheelchair tennis in 2012 in Gainesville under the tutelage of Vietnam vet Johnny Johnston, who coached him in the intricacies of the sport that’s played like regular tennis except two bounces are permitted.
“If you come to the net for a short ball or drop shot in wheelchair tennis, you had better put it away,” says Stu. “Tracking down topspin lobs to the baseline can be very difficult for players unable to use their legs.”
Hard court surfaces are easier to manage for wheelchair players, Stu says. Har-tru surfaces, while easy on the legs for normal players, are much more difficult to navigate for the wheels of chairs. One of the hardest things for wheelchair athletes is to get the chair into the best position before hitting the ball.
Weather permitting, he regularly attends clinics in Plantation at the Frank Veltri Tennis Center conducted by 2012 USTA wheelchair grant recipient Mark Morganstern every first and third Thursday of each month; at George English Park in Ft. Lauderdale every Wednesday, run by Jennifer Wiley; and every Tuesday in Boca at Patch Reef Park under Jim Tierney’s direction.
Stu gave 21 years of service to his country in the Army; we can expect that the 50-year-old athlete will put in far more than 21 years of wheelchair tennis. With the way his ranking has risen, it might not be 21 months before he plays in the Open Division at a Grand Slam event.
Stu Contant is a former aviator; is it any wonder that his ranking has soared?