By Victor Prieto | February 5, 2021
OCALA, Fla. — Growing up, Chris Herman was an avid athlete. Raised in St. Petersburg, Florida, he hoped to one day be a professional football player.
“I was always big into sports,” Chris Herman said. “I played tackle football, I played soccer, I played baseball.”
But on September 12, 2008, Chris Herman’s athletic dreams and life were forever changed. Chris Herman was in the backseat of the car, lying down to try and get some rest because he had a football game the next morning. Next thing he knows, Chris is waking up in a hospital bed.
I was told the first thing I said was I’ll never have fun again.
“That was a really tough day,” Chris’s Father, David Herman said. “You know, car accident, it’s the last thing you would expect. All of a sudden life changes in a fraction of a second.”
A car ran a red light and hit the Hermans head on, causing Chris to suffer a thoracic spinal cord injury at T-12. As a result, Chris Herman was diagnosed with total paralysis, meaning he lost full movement and feeling in both legs.
“I don’t remember saying this,” Chris Herman said. “But I was told the first thing I said was I’ll never have fun again.”
Herman overcame all the challenges those with paralysis must face. Every task was a challenge and he fell into depression, not wanting to leave the house and do simple activities.
“I think the biggest thing that anybody would have to realize, be it any kind of injury or any kind of setback is just there’s a path forward,” Chris Herman said. “And there’s always something you can do to make your life better.”
For Chris Herman, that path forward was on a tennis court. As soon as he was first introduced to the sport of wheelchair tennis at a camp in Orlando, he immediately fell for it. Within two years of Chris Herman picking up a racket, he was a top ranked Junior wheelchair tennis player in the country. Just a year later, he was selected to represent Team USA at the Junior World Team Cup.
He’s since traveled the world, representing the U.S. and the University of Florida in the World Team Cup, the Parapan American Games in Peru, and the Wheelchair Tennis Collegiate National Championships, where Chris Herman was a two-time champ in singles play,
“It’s still an incredible sight to behold walking in like the Opening Ceremony and seeing a crowd fill the stadium of like 30,000 people,” he said. “So for me not only to experience that, but to experience that while representing my country, is just a once in a lifetime opportunity and honestly really surreal.”
That’s the beauty of wheelchair tennis. That anybody can play with me at any time.
After graduating from the University of Florida in the spring of 2020, Chris Herman has his sights set on a new goal: represent Team USA in Tokyo for the 2021 Paralympics.
“The idea of representing your country and representing the U.S. is just second to none,” he said. “Everything I’m working towards, every training session, every tournament, it’s just a building block to try to reach that end goal for now.”
To qualify for the Paralympics, Chris Herman must rank in the top-40 in the world. He currently sits at 53rd, with tournaments looming in the future to improve his rank. Finding this inspiration in a ball and racket, he found a sense of belonging on the court; a feeling he lost with the accident.
“To be able to see my son, being able to overcome whatever obstacles have been thrown at him and excel at the level that he has been, it’s phenomenal,” David Herman said. “Becoming paralyzed, it’s not something anybody would ever envision or ever think that there’s anything positive that can come from that, but he’s not let it hold him back.”
The unity the sport of wheelchair tennis brings as able-bodied players can play alongside and against those adaptive athletes is something that is not common among sports. Chris Herman is grateful for the sport for giving him opportunities he would have never thought possible.
“It’s something where I get on the court and I don’t feel almost different in any sense of the word,” he said. “At the end of the day, I think tennis is tennis. And I think that’s the beauty of wheelchair tennis. That anybody can play with me at any time.”