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Port Orange Observer Friday, Aug. 16, 2019 3 years ago

Heart of Gold: Port Orange native brings home second national collegiate wheelchair tennis championship for UCF

Now that Auburn Smith has graduated, she hopes to promote and educate the public about the world of adaptive sports.
by: Tanya Russo Staff Writer

Port Orange resident Auburn Smith is the 2019 National Collegiate Wheelchair Tennis Champion for the second consecutive year.  Smith took the title after defeating Michigan State.

The national championships were held at the United States Tennis Association center in Lake Nona. Smith played for the University of Central Florida, which has been proactive in establishing adaptive sports programs for its students.

Smith is loyal. She loves representing UCF, and winning back-to-back championships is one way to do that.

“I was really happy I could do that just for UCF, because I like representing," Smith said. "I like showing what I love through wherever I am."

Adaptive tennis is the same as able-bodied tennis, except the ball is allowed to bounce twice before hitting it rather than once. As one progresses to a professional level, however, Smith said players hit the ball on one bounce.

Wheelchair tennis is “a very professional sport, but most people don’t know about it,” Smith said.

Sports wheelchairs are different from regular ones. They weigh a maximum of 6 pounds and the wheels tilt at an inside angle to make it easier for players to quickly push and pivot. There is a small wheel in the back to facilitate smooth turning as well.

Smith said the game that won her the championship was less stressful than the one that put her in the semi-finals. She said she defeated the Michigan State player because she had the advantage of being used to playing in Florida heat and humidity.

The game with the University of Alabama, however, was the one that stretched her to maximum capacity.

“It’s my biggest rival, because I’m named after Auburn and they’re a very big rivalry,” Smith said. “Everyone in my family was like, ‘yeah, that’s the one you need to beat.’”

The UA game went into a tie breaker. Smith said it was stressful, not only because of the sudden play-off, but in college sports, spectators are allowed to cheer for their teams, and it was loud. She had to block out the noise which was distracting for her. Most tennis matches are quiet.

Smith was born with spina bifida, a spinal condition, that makes walking a challenge. She became interested in tennis when she was nine years old and went to a tennis clinic with one of her able-bodied friends at a Port Orange recreation center. 

She was watching everyone play from the sidelines, when coach Nancy Olsen, a national paralympic champion who was also in a wheelchair, asked her if she wanted to play. 

The rest of the story is history. Smith loved the game and excelled at it.

Smith graduated from UCF on Aug. 4 with a degree in public administration. She completed an internship with the United States Tennis Association and is currently serving as a consultant. Her goal is to promote and educate the public about the world of adaptive sports, especially tennis.

Auburn Smith during her graduation day from the University of Central Florida. Photo courtesy of Anthony Moore


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