Today's gift: Jennifer Fuchs.

Nominated by: Therese Vande Voorde.

Why she's special: "Jennifer is a very special tennis teacher," Therese Vande Voorde said. She has a generous heart and devotes countless hours to teaching children, especially those with special needs.

Fuchs has lived in Tucson for 15 years and is director of tennis at HiltonTucson El Conquistador Golf & Tennis Resort and El Conquistador Country Club.

She has played tennis almost all her life. When she was 14, she learned how satisfying it can be to share an activity you love with others, particularly with somebody who needs your help.

A tennis pro at a club where she played started a program for those confined to wheelchairs.

"I started volunteering with that program," Fuchs said.

That was the beginning.

Now it's not unusual for her to spend 60-hour work weeks teaching or organizing tournaments or taking kids to tournaments.

Part of her busy schedule can be attributed to her administrative and teaching duties at El Conquistador. But a big part comes from the fact that she gives her time to teach disabled children on Saturdays.

She also is president of the Southern Arizona Tennis Association, and as such, she's involved with getting a tennis program started on the Tohono O'odham Indian reservation.

"We're trying to get tennis into the school curriculum on the reservation," she said.

Her advocacy for wheelchair athletes hasn't dimmed, meanwhile. She's a member of the U.S. Tennis Association's wheelchair committee, directly involved with planning the annual tennis tournament for wheelchair athletes slated for February at the El Conquistador resort.

Although she doesn't talk much about it, Fuchs can draw on her own experience with physical adversity to help her deal with special-needs kids.

She played collegiate tennis at UCLA and spent six years on the professional circuit, playing in all the major tournaments worldwide, including Wimbledon and the Australian Open.

But during those six years, she battled injuries sustained when she — a pedestrian — was hit by a car.

Fuchs went through four major surgeries and "kept trying to come back in between," she said, "but things were never the same. I was unable to compete."

Even so, tennis remained her love, and, she said, tennis is so good for kids, regardless of their abilities or limitations.

"It helps their balance, their eye-hand coordination, and it's a big self-esteem builder," she said.

Not only that, it helps her and all those who work with the children.

And while friends and colleagues cite her as a "gift" of Tucson, she cites the Hilton El Conquistador for supporting the children with court time and the club members, parents and others who are involved.

She considers them "gifts," too.

— Rosalie Robles Crowe

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