Brad Alan Parks was an 18-year-old freestyle skiing prodigy with dreams of turning professional. His talents led him to a competitive event in Utah when tragedy struck. Sailing down the mountain, Parks went airborne and landed incorrectly on the icy surface. The spill left him paralyzed from the hips down. Rather than wallow in the life-changing accident, Parks spawned a new sport for those confined to a wheelchair. It was during his rehabilitation in 1977 that Parks and wheelchair athlete Jeff Minnenbraker began conceptualizing the possibilities of wheelchair tennis. “I was sitting in the hospital, thinking, what am I going to do now?” Parks says. “I knew I had to make the best of the situation. I started thinking, I wonder if you can play tennis in a wheelchair?”
Wheelchair tennis caught the interest of a legion of players seeking an athletic event and in 1980 the boom began. Parks joined forces with David Saltz, Jim Worth and Dave Kiley to form the National Foundation of Wheelchair Tennis (NFWT) and created a 10-tournament circuit throughout the United States that culminated in a national championship event played in Irvine, California. By today’s standards, the hundred players that competed were modest, but at the time were a boon to the sport.
Today the NEC Wheelchair Tennis Tour comprises more than 150 tournaments in 41 countries, with $1,500,000 in purse money. Wheelchair tennis is now played in nearly 100 countries and is an integral part of the competition program at all four major tournaments. For this remarkable dedication to tennis, Parks is recognized as the pioneer of wheelchair tennis, which is also included in all four major events.
“I had the opportunity to start an organization to develop the sport, organize tournaments and give exhibitions and clinics to show and teach others to play,” Parks said. “It caught on and we all felt this was a very special sport at that time, allowing the disabled the ability to play with able-bodied friends.”
The sport was included in the Wheelchair Games in Stoke Mandeville in 1987, and then it became a full-medal sport at the Paralympic Games for the first time in Barcelona in 1992, where Parks partnered with the late Randy Snow to win the men’s doubles gold medal. In 1988, the International Wheelchair Tennis Federation (IWTF) was formed to govern this growing international sport with Parks as the inaugural president. In 1998, the IWTF was fully integrated into the International Tennis Federation, making it the first disabled sport to achieve such a union on the international level. In 1985, as a result of increased international presence at the US Open, the World Team Cup was started with five nations, not including women or quad players. Today this prestigious Fed Cup/Davis Cup-style team event has been contested by 52 different nations in its 25 year history, and boasts men, women, quads and junior competitions.
As an ambassador to the sport, Parks has been honored numerous times. The Brad Parks Award was established by the USTA in 2002 to recognize outstanding contributions to the game of wheelchair tennis. Recipients may be involved through playing, coaching, sponsoring, or promoting wheelchair tennis. Each annual recipient’s name will be added to the permanent trophy, which will be housed at the USTA National Tennis Center. Additionally, the International Tennis Federation established The Brad Parks Award in 1993, presented to an individual or organization that has made a significant contribution to wheelchair tennis on an international basis.
Class of 2010
World No. 1 (1980-1989)
Grand Slam Results
3-time major champion
1992 Barcelona Paralympics, Gold Medal in Men’s Doubles (with Randy Snow)
Contributions to Tennis
Inventor and promoter of wheelchair tennis
Designed sports wheelchairs