Bryan Barten had called “shotgun,” entitling him to a spot in the passenger seat of his friend’s Dodge Stealth twin turbo. But it was dumping rain in Michigan that day in 1997, and another buddy sent him to the backseat rather than debate and get wet.
Barten did not wear a seat belt.
Around the corner from his home, the Dodge skidded across the slick road, slamming Barten into a light post.
He spent two weeks in intensive care and four months in rehab, and is now paralyzed below the sixth and seventh cervical vertebrae. His friends in the front seat weren’t badly injured, he said.
“When you go through life, you usually never realize a moment that’s changing your life when it happens,” he said.
But he could feel the change.
The once-active Michigan State student was bored in a wheelchair, he said. He decided one day to hit a few tennis balls. The girl doing the serving was cute.
“I just fell in love with it,” he said. “I was practicing so much. I kept playing, and I started to get good.”
In 14 years of playing, the 38-year-old has appeared on seven U.S. national teams. He traveled the world, from Australia to Japan to Turkey to Western Europe, to play, and, for the past five years, has coached the Arizona Wildcats team full-time.
“But I never made it to the Paralympics, for one reason or the other,” he said.
Ranked No. 9 in the world, he was placed on the United States quad team in June. Quad players are defined as those with impairment in three limbs. The sport has similar rules to tennis, but the ball can bounce twice before a point is awarded.
Last week, Barten and Noah Yablong, a former UA player who graduated this year with an engineering degree, trained for the Paralympics with their American teammates in Minneapolis.
Read more in Sunday's Arizona Daily Star.