Paralyzed Boise man plays U.S. Open wheelchair tennis tournament this week




Chris Butler / The Idaho Statesman
Paralyzed as a teen-ager, Greg Proctor now devotes his time to helping children enjoy the sports he still plays.

Chris Butler / The Idaho Statesman
Greg Proctor is set to compete in the U.S. Wheelchair Open in San Diego from Tuesday to Sunday.


A freak accident or fate? He was thrown from the Jeep and can´t remember hitting the hard desert ground. A few days later, when he realized what had happened, it was too much to comprehend.
After June 16, 1985, Greg Proctor never walked again.

"It was a one-in-a-billion chance that I was injured at all," he says, "but looking back on it, I kind of feel like it was meant to be."

Seventeen years later, the Boise man is living the good life, including this week when he´ll make his second appearance at the United States Open wheelchair tennis tournament.

Proctor is in San Diego to compete in A division singles and doubles. In 1998, he finished runner-up in the B division consolation bracket.

His return to the premier wheelchair tennis tournament in the country is a remarkable story, but Proctor´s life seems to be one remarkable story after another.

Two days before his 19th birthday, the All-State football player from Twin Falls High School rolled the 1940s Willys Jeep he was driving. He was thrown from the vehicle, landed on his back and suffered a T-10 spinal cord injury that paralyzed him from the waist down.

"I don´t remember three or four days (after the accident)," Proctor says, "but what I can remember is when the doctor said, ´There´s a 99.9 percent chance that you´ll never walk again.´

"It was unacceptable to me. I denied it mentally. It felt like I was living another person´s life."

Proctor took up tennis in 1993 because, of all reasons, he couldn´t get 10 guys out to play basketball, he says.

He steadily climbed the United States Tennis Association wheelchair rankings from 1995 to 1999, and his stock peaked in 1999 when he reached fifth in the U.S. in the A division rankings.

A debilitating injury in 2000 sidelined Proctor. He spent nine months in bed recovering from severe pressure sores, the product of sitting in a chair for many years.

He didn´t play again until February 2001.

A teacher is born

It was during that time when Proctor decided to start teaching tennis in the Treasure Valley.

June marked the 10th year of his involvement with the Idaho Youth Wheelchair Sports Camp. The annual four-day event provides an arena for children and young adults to participate in a wide variety of activities, from kayaking and canoeing, to basketball, baseball and bowling.

And tennis, of course.

"This is something that these kids look forward to all year long," says Proctor, who has participated in all those sports since his accident.

"They see us playing different sports and don´t have to sit on the sidelines and watch."

His familiarity with coaching children at the youth camp, and the years spent teaching at area tennis clinics and as a volunteer coach for the Boise State women´s team in the mid-1990s, made Proctor a natural fit for his most recent passion - pee wee tennis.

After making a full recovery in 2001, he was approached by a friend´s wife to coach 3- to 8-year-olds. He readily accepted.

Jodi Peterson, that friend´s wife, is the founder and co-director (along with Proctor) of The Little Tennis Academy. It´s a program designed to introduce young people to the game. Proctor and five other instructors conduct classes throughout the Boise area.

"I´d like to take credit for being a great coach, but it´s the Gummy Bears," he says.

Just the right guy

BSU tennis coach Jim Moortgat said Proctor had the right temperament and work ethic for coaching.

"Everyday he was learning more and he worked on his own game," Moortgat said. "He (understood) what it (took) to get better."

It is an understatement to say that life in a wheelchair has been challenging for Proctor.

There was a time, he says, when he felt like he was the only person in the world in a wheelchair. He says there were no athletic or social programs for people with his injury. He felt secluded, he says.

He also spent a lot of time after the accident playing the what-if game.

"You know, I was supposed to go right from my dad´s to my house," Proctor says. "But instead, I picked up a couple of friends and went four-wheelin´ in the desert."

Freak accident or fate?

After he graduated from Twin Falls High, as one of the top high school football players in the state, Proctor expected to receive a college scholarship.

None came.

So he worked for a year, then planned to walk on to the BSU football team.

That fateful day in June eventually rolled around, and Proctor, his mind wary of summer camp at BSU, allowed himself one last whoop-it-up with the fellas. The result was literally life-altering.

"The enormous issues that you deal with, both physically and mentally - everything changes," he says.

Sort of denial

For a time, he says, he was in a sort of denial.

"Right after the accident, I said, ´OK, I´m in a wheelchair. I´ll make the best of it. I started school and tried to be normal, but I also thought I would walk again,´´ he said.

There were good times and there were low times, he says. Eventually though, Proctor said he reached "a bottom and the only alternative was to get back to doing what I loved to do."

"For a long time after my accident, I felt like I had to prove things to people, that I could do what they did - rock rappelling or whitewater rafting. I still do like to do those things, but I do them because I enjoy the sport."

For the nearly two decades that he has been confined to a chair, Proctor has followed the progress of medicine and spinal injuries.

With technology, he thinks spinal cord injuries some day will be a thing of the past.

"I have a bittersweet feeling about that,´´ Proctor said. "I´d like to walk again, but I know how hard it would be to physically retrain my body to walk, let alone run.

"I´m very comfortable with my life right now in a chair. It´s part of me, who I am.´´

Edition Date: 10-07-2002
http://204.228.236.37/Sports/story.asp?ID=22292

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"Events in our past seem to slip further away with time. But what happens when they circle back and meet us head on....in the present? Before we allow ourselves to be consumed by our regrets, we should remember the mistakes we make in life are not so important as the lessons we draw from them.." Outer Limits(Last supper)