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Member Profile: Kaitlyn Verfuerth

February 2, 2014 04:31 PM

USTA Southwest Member Profile: Kaitlyn Verfuerth (Flagstaff, Arizona)

de7a263c8b6b85d29b9a9eb645e22743There aren't a lot of people that can say they've represented their country in one sport, much less two, but Flagstaff's Kaitlyn Verfuerth has done just that. As a member of Team USA's wheelchair basketball and wheelchair tennis teams, Verfuerth has gotten to combine her love of competing and in the process, become something of a world traveler, hitting up six of the seven continents.

Back home in Flagstaff, Verfuerth keeps it a bit more low key, as an assistant high school coach of Flagstaff High, an owner of BTO Yogurt shops, and the mother of two puglet dogs.

We recently caught up with Verfeurth, one of the more decorated volunteers on our USTA Southwest wheelchair committee, to get the lowdown on how she got started playing tennis, her love of basketball, and her experiences as a coach to able-bodied players.  

Check out a recent NAZ Today story on Verfuerth! 


USTASW: When did you get started with tennis, and where and how exactly did you get started?
 I started playing tennis when I was 5 years old. My grandmother was a tennis fanatic and she introduced me to the game. So I technically started playing then. I didn't start playing tennis in a wheelchair until I was about 14.

I wanted to play tennis because it was the only sport a wheelchair player could actually compete with an able bodied player. I really just wanted to be active and play sports with my friends. I started playing on my High School tennis team. Made varsity all four years. I should back up (laughing). I was born and raised in Wisconsin, so that's where it all started, technically.  

My first time ever hitting a tennis ball in a wheelchair I went to a clinic in Milwaukee. I was hurt in a car accident when I was 7 so I didn't get a ton of time playing on my feet but I was starting to really understand how to hit the ball. 


USTASW: What was your first memory of your first time ever playing tennis? 
KV: I have to say with my grandmother. I remember the first thing she taught me. And that was to bounce the ball on my racket up in the air, and dribble the ball with my racket.

I literally remember this moment because she wanted me to just work on bouncing the ball with my racket up in the air while she was playing doubles with her friends.

148147I had seemed to master this task fairly quickly, then she had me bounce the ball on the ground and by the end of that afternoon I was hitting the ball over the net. (mini tennis of course) I instantly fell in love. I wanted to play every single day.

She showed me the wall at our public tennis courts. In summer, I would play on that wall every day. I then decided that I could do this at home as well. On our garage door. Well let's just say that didn't last very long. I was in big trouble a few days later when I had made a bunch of dents. I think you get the point!

My first experience hitting a tennis ball in a wheelchair was much the same as before. That day at the clinic I literally picked up where I had left off as an able-bodied player. By the end of that first (wheelchair) clinic I was hitting balls with the pro. 


USTASW: We’re so glad you’re a part of our Wheelchair Tennis efforts here in the Southwest, and are really proud of what you’ve accomplished already. We’re curious, what do you feel the tennis community needs to understand about wheelchair players and how can they help grow wheelchair tennis play in local areas like Flagstaff? What are some things local areas can do to reach out to wheelchair players and just help them get involved in our sport?

KV: I am truly honored to be working with USTA Southwest Section. I am extremely excited about working to mostly spread awareness. I think it's critical just to get wheelchair tennis out there. And by that I mean playing at local and public courts, going to the schools and doing demos of the sport, visiting rehab hospitals, etc.

I can't tell you how awesome wheelchair tennis is until you actually see it. It's pretty amazing. In November at the USTA meetings down in Phoenix, we played Up-Down tennis with a bunch of the board members. They were simply blown away. 


USTASW: We know you’re also a coach at Flagstaff High for the girls’ team, which is just the coolest thing ever. How have your experiences as a TENNIS PLAYER who’s competed across the globe translated to the girls? Obviously, yours are a little different from theirs, but what type of lessons are you trying to teach them in matches when they’re competing?

HighSchool_VerfuerthKV: Thank you! Coaching high school tennis has been a dream come true. One of the biggest things on my (so called bucket list) is to teach someone how to play tennis. And to coach high school tennis has been something I really wanted to do. This is where it all started for me.

I remember my high school days, and high school can be a rough time for some, or, should I say an awkward time.

You're starting to become more and more independent, bumping heads with your parents, wanting to do what you want. So the most important lesson I believe on my court is first and foremost, HAVING FUN!!!!

Flagstaff Girls are 6 and 1 this year so far. Losing only one high school match so far is not too bad.

Teaching the girls that competing is serious, but knowing when to be serious. When I am coaching the girls during matches and maybe someone is not having a good day on the court, well the first thing I do on a changeover to talk is find a way to make them laugh.

Whatever it might be, a joke about me even. Once they start laughing and relax they go back a different player (after a few tactical tips of course) We work hard so on the court it's important to reward ourselves, but relaxing on the court and knowing when it's the right time to be focused is super important.

In my experience, I have learned that after spending a month or two in Europe playing tournaments toward the end you really start getting worn down with tennis. That's the last thing you want! Got to keep it fresh. Taking time away helps.


BX76v2ZCEAA6otnUSTASW:  We know you’re also a huge fan of basketball, and actually compete on the US National Wheelchair Team as well as the Phoenix Mercury wheelchair team.  How does the cross-training for a different sport help you with your tennis? 

KV: It makes tennis sooooooo much easier. I am not going to lie, but playing wheelchair basketball is definitely more grueling that tennis.

The sport is just so physical, you're getting pushed around and falling on the floor.

Playing basketball makes playing tennis feel so much easier. It's like a relief to get on the court.


USTASW:  You’ve played on international teams representing the United States. What have those experiences been like? Where have you gotten to go? 
I have had some of the most amazing experiences playing tennis. Some definite highlights in my career are playing in 2 Paralympic Games (Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008). I won two gold medals in singles and doubles from the Para-Pan Am games in Rio in 2007.

I have to say there is no greater feeling and words can't even describe what it feels like to represent the United States in a team competition. Every time I get ready for a USA versus anyone match, it's a big difference than just playing in a regular tournament.

There are so many more nervous, goosebumps, butterflies in my belly. These experiences are such a great honor. I am so proud.

I have also played in 3 of the 4 Grand Slams, traveled all over Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, South America. I feel so fortunate and lucky to travel and experience different cultures while doing something I love, playing tennis.


Kaitlyn_VerfuerthUSTASW: You played at University of Arizona on their wheelchair tennis team. Obviously, U of A is one of the few schools in the country that even has a wheelchair collegiate program. Is that why you chose to attend?

KV: I chose the University of Arizona because of 3 things...1) the weather, 2) the tennis, and 3) to get a good education.

They might not particularly be in that order, though (laughing)! 


USTASW: Do you have any on-court quirks or rituals you just have to do? 
KV: Having rituals is so important to tennis! YES.....I have to bounce the ball four times before I serve a first serve, two on a second serve.

When I am playing a tournament and on the first day of that tournament if I win I have to do everything EXACTLY the same way the next day and subsequent days after.

Everything from how I wore my hair to what I ate for breakfast or lunch to what I did in my warm up that day, what outfit I wear and so on.


USTASW: What’s one thing someone might not know about you that they’d be surprised to hear? 
KV:  This one is hard because I feel like I am pretty much an open book.

I think the most recent thing I have done that some people were really surprised that I did was my other half and I posed semi nude on a magazine cover! Yikes.