Athlete Plays Tennis On Wheels, Not Feet

Like most sports, tennis is a full-body experience.

But for Heath Winn, 24, his arms do everything.

"These guys don't take it easy on me at all though," the Marshall native said of his Tennis Tech classmates at Tyler Junior College. "They treat me just like one of them. They don't cut me any slack around here."

The other players don't take it easy on him because they've seen what he can do -- doing 360s in his wheelchair and scooting across the court to get to the ball.

"When you hit the ball, he's going for it, no matter how far you hit the ball," Jeremy McHam, a classmate said.

Heath is a paraplegic. Six years ago, just after graduating from high school, he was robbed at gunpoint and shot in the lower spine. The former football and tennis player was paralyzed from the waist down.

"I was pretty devastated. You can say that," he said. "Yeah, it just took me a while to get adjusted to everything."

Heath says he's moved past the frustration and that took him back to the court, training for the past four years and competing in tournaments regularly.

"I actually have more fun playing it out of a wheelchair than I do when I could walk and run," Heath said.

Heath has not only inspired those who have seen him play, he's also challenged his classmates -- so much so that Jeremy wants to start a wheelchair tennis program in Tyler -- something he says he had never thought about before meeting Heath.

"I think it's amazing all that Heath can do," Jeremy said. "He does it just like us, if not sometimes better than what we can do."

"It definitely makes me better, playing with guys that can walk and run," Heath said.

Heath is working toward a degree in sports management. His goal is to become a 5A high school football coach and continue to play wheelchair tennis competitively.

At the rate he's going, we can't see anything stopping him.

Heath plays tennis daily for two hours. But he says that's not the hard part of his day. The tough part is when he has to wheel himself uphill to get back to class. He says he doesn't drive because he doesn't want to lose his parking spot.

Julie Tam, reporting.