Sylvia_SwartzSylvia Swartz, executive director of the Handi-Racket Tennis Program, was honored by the Boston Celtics with their 'Hero Among Us’ award during a special on-court presentation.  The award recognizes individuals who have made an overwhelming impact on the lives of others.

By Alex Hinckley, special to USTAFoundation.com

WAYLAND, MA – While speaking with Sylvia Swartz about tennis, it becomes evident early on that she has a true passion for the sport and a unique dedication to helping others.

She has devoted the last 28 years of her life to the sport, both as a Tennis Professional and as Executive Director of Handi-Racket Tennis, the longest running instructional tennis program for people with disabilities in the United States.  Handi-Racket Tennis was awarded the USTA Adaptive Tennis National Community Service Award in 2008.  USTA Award Video

“It really takes a community to raise a child with disabilities,” says Swartz, whose 41-year-old daughter has benefited from the Handi-Racket Tennis program since she was a little girl.

Based in Wayland, MA at The Longfellow Club, Handi-Racket Tennis is a non-profit that offers the opportunity to learn the sport of tennis to a population that might not otherwise have the chance. It was founded in 1977 by Laury Hammel, the current CEO of The Longfellow Club. Swartz took over the program in 1987.

“Tennis begins with love. People who have disabilities are not defined by their disability. They are people just like us and I think some people forget that,” Swartz adds. That is why she has dedicated much of her life to helping others and providing a place for people with disabilities to go for support.

“Our participants range from 11 years old to 63 years old,” says Swartz. Many of the people in the program today have been attending Handi-Racket for more than 25 years, including her daughter. Along with running the program day-to-day, Swartz also affords the chance for program participants to attend the Special Olympics.

When not running Handi-Racket, Swartz is a teaching professional.

“I worked at Longfellow for 7 years with Sylvia and I always saw the amount of work she was doing. I was just very impressed with the time and energy she puts into a cause she truly cares about,” said Erin Reeves, the USPTA Junior NETT Coordinator at Natick Racquet Club in Natick, MA.

That selfless commitment is something Reeves thought deserved recognition outside of the club and the program. She contacted the Boston Celtics last summer to nominate Swartz for a ‘Hero Among Us’ award which is a program that honors individuals who have made an overwhelming impact on the lives of others.

“I was awe-struck,” says Swartz when she found out she was selected.  “I didn’t even know I was nominated. Erin not only saw my work but did something about it and recognized me for it. That made me feel really special,” she adds.

Swartz was honored on Sunday, December 7th during the Boston Celtics game with a special presentation on-court. She was an acting captain for the day alongside Rajon Rondo.

This honor will be added to the numerous awards Swartz has received for her contributions to adaptive tennis over the years. In many ways, she is a shining example of what it means to be a ’hero among us’ all.

 
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