After Losing Leg, Teen Gets Back in the Game

A player serves during the British Open Wheelchair Championships at the Nottingham Tennis Center. <br>Photo: Matt Lewis
??The 28th U.S. Open USTA National Wheelchair Championships begin Tuesday, Sept. 18. Click here to learn more.

Issaquah, Wash.--Mark Frisby, a successful tennis coach for decades, knows being a winner takes more than just prowess.??

It also takes heart. Which is why he admires Chandler Balkman.??

Frisby, who has coached the Seattle Prep girls' team to 10 state championships, also coaches the Issaquah High School boys team. Chandler, a 17-year-old Issaquah senior, plays on the team.??

A year ago last month, Chandler nearly died when he was run over by a boat while swimming in Lake Sammamish. His right leg was severed at the hip socket. Rushed to Harborview Medical Center, he "arrived at the hospital basically dying," says his mother, Susan Balkman. "We learned later the doctors didn't expect him to survive."??

Chandler had been a lacrosse player, a tennis player, a skier and a water skier. Now, everything was different.??

Or, maybe not.??

Frisby "was diligent in visiting Chandler in the hospital," Susan Balkman says. And less than two weeks after Chandler left the hospital, Frisby arranged for him to attend a demonstration of wheelchair tennis at a local tennis club.??

Last winter, Frisby worked with Chandler weekly, helping him learn to play tennis from a wheelchair.??

An anonymous donor gave Chandler a wheelchair especially designed for the sport--one with wheels set up to keep him from tipping when he reaches for a ball.??

"It's got a fifth wheel on the back so I can lean backward and hit the ball and not tip over," Chandler says.??

When members of the boys' tennis team began practicing for the fall season, Chandler was there. Frisby named him co-captain.??

At some point this season, Chandler will take to the court to compete in doubles against players from another school. Frisby says the Washington State Interscholastic Activities Association, which governs high school athletics, goes by the rules of the United States Tennis Association. That group allows wheelchair tennis players to compete in tournaments with players who aren't in wheelchairs; rules say that wheelchair players are allowed two bounces of the ball instead of one.??

"I'm not as competitive as I used to be, but I'm having fun," Chandler says.??

And challenging himself. He uses a triple-jointed prosthetic leg for walking on level surfaces and a wheelchair or crutches when the surface is more challenging.??

He has learned to drive using a car with the accelerator on the left side of the brake.??

In February, Chandler, a skier since he was two, returned to the slopes, using one ski and poles with outriggers.??

"I can't run," he says. "So being able to ski again was a huge boost. I love it. The number one thing about skiing is that it's something where I can go really fast. I go as fast or faster now than I used to."??

In June on his birthday, he returned to water skiing. And this summer, he walked 16 miles on crutches while taking part in a church youth group trek.??

Last month, when his family went to Mexico on vacation, he tried surfing. Last week, he golfed with his dad.??

"He's spent the year proving to himself what he can do," his mother says.??

The family lives at Lake Sammamish. Approaching Aug. 3, the anniversary of the accident, "was sobering," Susan Balkman says. So the family decided to start a new tradition.??

She baked a leg-shaped cake. They put one candle in it. Chandler blew it out.??

"Rather than think about the loss of his leg, we celebrated the miracle of his life," she says.??

Chandler, who plans to be a doctor, sees his life as a gift.??

"If you look at statistics, I'm very lucky to be alive," he says. "I'm trying to maximize every opportunity."??

That's the heart that inspires Frisby.??

"It kind of makes you want to coach," he says. "It gives a different perspective on what's important."??


Discuss This Article