In a few weeks, wheelchair tennis player Jon Rydberg (BFA, ’01) will board a plane to London and continue his quest for a gold medal at the 2012 Paralympic Games.
It’s a familiar spot for the former Movin’ Mavs wheelchair basketball: this will be his third foray on the Olympic stage.
“I’m very excited to see how my draw works out,” Rydberg said from his Oakdale, Minn., home. “I was seeded in the Top 16 at (Athens and Beijing). I won the first rounds, but lost to the No. 1 player in the world both times. This year, I’m not seeded… but I’ve played enough big matches to know it doesn’t matter who I’m playing. I need to focus on myself and what I do.”
Tennis has been Rydberg’s game since he was young. In the late 1990s, he took a break and accepted a full scholarship to play basketball for UT Arlington. When he graduated with a BFA in graphic design in 2001, he restarted his tennis career and toured nationally. The dream of playing in the Paralympics loomed large on the horizon.
“It was one of my big goals,” Rydberg said about qualifying for the 2004 Athens Paralympics. “I remember being excited and anxious for it to get started. Looking back, the journey leading up to it was amazing: fighting for a spot, trying to get in there and working to get better every day and every week. It went so quick and it’s done and it’s over and you start the ball rolling for the next one.”
As he prepared for the 2008 Paralympics in Beijing, Rydberg honed his talent, snagging top awards in national competitions in 2007 and earning a gold medal at the Parapan American Games in Brazil in 2007. After Beijing, he decided to take a break, focus on his family and re-evaluate his goals.
Throughout his career, Rydberg was active in clinics and youth camps. Coaching was a natural transition, and in 2009 he joined the athletic staff at East Ridge High School in Woodbury, Minn., as the girls tennis coach. Though there are no wheelchair players currently on his team, Rydberg is hopeful he will inspire students to give the sport a try.
These days, his wife and their 15-month-old son provide plenty of inspiration as he trains for international competition. And as proud as he is of representing the United States, an older, wiser Rydberg knows to push past the fanfare of the Paralympics and focus on the experience and talent that got him there.
“You take it seriously, regardless of the U.S. team participation or just being out there representing yourself,” he said. “It’s how we act and how we play. I’m at the Paralympics, I’m representing my country. But if you prepare the same way every time, no matter what match it is or where it is, the result should be the same.”
For more information about Rydberg and the U.S. Paralympic Team, log on to http://www.teamusa.org/US-Paralympics.aspx.