A Long Island varsity athlete who has been wheelchair-bound since a 2009 car accident achieved a historic first on Tuesday by taking part in an able-bodied tennis match … and winning the first four games of an opening set at that.
As reported by Newsday, 16-year-old Harborfields junior Nate Melnyk formed one-half of a doubles tennis team that took the court for a varsity match at Smithtown East on Tuesday. Melnyk and his partner, freshman Bobby Bellino, captured four straight games in the opening set before the match was postponed due to inclement weather; it will conclude at Smithtown East on Monday.
The match was the culmination of a journey that began when Melnyk was injured in an auto accident in 2009, and something the teen said he has been looking forward to for three years. Melnyk spent his first two high school seasons competing in exhibition matches with the Harborfields junior varsity team, all while competing on the USTA Wheelchair Tennis circuit, where he has been ranked as highly as No. 10 in the nation. He began competing in tennis shortly after the aforementioned accident left him paralyzed from the waist down, and has competed against able-bodied athletes since his time on the Harborfields Middle School team, where the high school coach Bob Davis first caught sight of him in a third doubles match.
It didn’t take long for Davis to be convinced Melnyk would be a useful addition to his own team in multiple ways.
“I first saw Nate play when he was an eighth-grader. I went down to check on the middle school team, my farm system,” Davis told Newsday. “All of a sudden, playing third doubles, this young man comes out in a wheelchair and the hair on the back of my neck stood up. I just couldn’t believe it. He was pretty good. I was shocked. I went home and told my wife, ‘I can’t believe what I just saw.’ It was fantastic.
“He’s a great kid with a great attitude. … He put in his time. He’s gotten a lot better. He hits ground strokes well. He has two different serves. He doesn’t miss a day of practice.”
And, now, he is competing at the highest level … and winning at that.
“He’s an inspiration,” Smithtown East coach Steve Ginsberg told Newsday. “To be able to present him to my players and have them be a part of something bigger than themselves is very important for a teenager. We’re all very excited to have this opportunity.”