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JBLM fire inspector, an amputee, rediscovers love for tennis

Among 70 wounded warriors at U.S. Open ballperson tryouts

Northwest Guardian

Published: 01:54PM July 3rd, 2014

Among 70 hopeful wounded warriors at the United States Tennis Association’s U.S. Open Ballperson Tryout June 19, Will Silva, a one-legged amputee from Joint Base Lewis-McChord stood out. He ran across the courts collecting tennis balls to show he could keep up if chosen for the tournament in August.

For the fire inspector from JBLM’s Fire and Emergency Services, the tryout, held at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing, N.Y., was just part of his rediscovering his love of tennis.

Silva hadn’t picked up a racquet since before the accident that cost him his leg, but several months ago, that changed. Silva was meeting with a recreational therapist at the Veterans Affairs Clinic in Lakewood, who recommended he apply for the USTA’s third annual National Tennis Camp for Wounded Warriors May 2014 at the Balboa Tennis Club in San Diego, Calif.

Shortly afterward, he found out he was accepted. His girlfriend quickly bought him all of the equipment needed to play for his birthday.

“Since I was going to camp, I took some lessons, started playing again, started getting the bones cracking and the muscles moving to that sport because it’s a totally different conditioning,” Silva said.

He even ordered a new prosthetic leg designed to hold up under the cutting, shuffling and sprinting required in tennis.

During the camp’s second day, Silva was approached by USTA representatives about trying out to be a ballperson during the U.S. Open tennis tournament. As Silva normally does when approached about trying a new activity or challenge, he responded, “Why not?”

Silva demonstrated that wearing a prosthetic leg wasn’t a hindrance for him as he ran from one side of the court to the other during the tryout — collecting tennis balls that hit the net and delivering them to players and judges.

Silva will find out this month if he will be invited to be part of this year’s U.S. Open. If invited, he said he’s excited about the entire experience, which also includes a special Veterans’ Day event.

“They invite lots of local wounded service members, lots of (active-duty) service members and family members of those service members,” Silva said. “I’ll be part of that in one way, shape or form if I do make it back (to New York).”

Silva is no stranger to tennis. He played as a junior and senior in high school in Port Isabel, Texas, where the only other sports offered were football and basketball. He took the field, trading the pigskin for a racket.

“I excelled at it, but once I got hit I was out for many, many plays because I was the smallest guy,” Silva said. “I said, ‘You know, I really don’t like this game,’” he remembers saying, referring to football.

While having qualified for district and regional tournaments throughout high school and being entered into elite tennis camps in Texas, Silva didn’t have plans to play at the collegiate level, though scouts from Baylor and other Division 1 programs visited his school to check out the tennis talent.

In fact, Silva signed up for the Marine Corps on the first day of his senior year of high school. He later stopped playing the sport altogether after a truck hit him while riding his motorcycle in Fort Worth, Texas, during a day off in 2003.

Over time, Silva became more involved in marathon races, shooting, archery and outdoor activities he’s discovered since moving to Washington in 2009 to take his current position as a fire inspector.

Since participating in the camp and ballperson tryouts, Silva is expecting to sign up for USTA membership that allows him to play in local tournaments based on his skill level and ranking.

“It’s to get out there, play at my level and be somewhat recognized for playing,” Silva said. “It’s definitely gotten me back into the sport.”