I started playing wheelchair tennis in 2006 after seeing a photo of the amazing Nick Taylor playing in an electric wheelchair. I had no idea you could play competitive wheelchair sports in a power chair. I started playing tennis again, albeit from a chair now, and it changed my life.
When I first started playing, I had a hard time holding onto the racket when striking the ball. I couldn’t hit very far, or hard. I had trouble leaning over to pick up the tennis balls off the ground without pushing up off my knees to sit back up straight.
But after playing for several months, all of this changed. My body optimized itself and somehow everything got much easier. The biggest improvement came in my trunk muscles. I became able to lean over and pick up tennis balls easily and pop right back up to sitting up straight. This improvement translated to many other things like being able to roll over in bed more easily. Even when I am cleaning up my house or doing laundry I know that my trunk muscles are working better because of tennis.
I don’t know the exact reason this happened. There might have been some strength improvement but I think it’s more likely that a bunch of muscles I wasn’t really using decided to kick it into gear and help out. I think this is something it’s easy to forget about. Even if an individual muscle has weakness, your body can learn a new way to function such that other surrounding muscles help out. If you start adding muscles together to complete a task, it’s a lot more effective than just relying on one muscle.
This is why I encourage wheelchair sports and exercise to other people with Becker muscular dystrophy. You can even play wheelchair tennis if you are still walking but have difficulty — you just use the chair to compete. You don’t have to overdo it to see improved function. You just have to do something long enough to allow your body to optimize itself and eventually make life easier.