B.Ritta Wend was up early this morning in July. The wheelchair tennis player has been training for an hour on the great hall in the Weiden district of Cologne. The rain beats hard on the roof, but the 25-year-old is not distracted by it. Dressed entirely in black, he sits in his sports wheelchair with great concentration. The serve is good, but his coach Niklas Höfken’s backhand hits the net. “I can’t even do it all the time,” he says with a laugh.
Britta Wend trains three times a week with Höfken, Katharina Krüger, the best German wheelchair tennis player, is now her doubles partner: The conditions for a great race could hardly be better, and Britta Wend has a clear goal in mind: participate in the Paralympic Games.
Hard wheelchair training was not part of everyday life for Bielefelders until three years ago. However, she has been involved in the sport all her life. She played handball for years. Not in a wheelchair, but as a pedestrian, until she had a serious accident at the sports university in Cologne, where she has been studying since 2017. “I remember being tired that day, I had a difficult week before,” she says today. However, she participates in stunt training at the university. She’s supposed to jump off a fellow student’s shoulders and do a somersault after landing. But Britta Wend is not entirely focused. She is already spinning in the air and landing hard on her head. She screams in pain. “I knew immediately that something was wrong with my legs. Nothing moved when I tried to use my feet.”
The devastating diagnosis at the hospital: incomplete paraplegia: a lumbar vertebra is broken and has compressed Britta Wend’s spinal cord. “That means it’s not cut off, it’s offline, so something could come back.” The news is a shock to her and her family at first, but everyone reacts relatively calmly. “We’re more of the hands-on type,” Wend says, “So it was, and you try to make the most of it.”
Passion for tennis is no accident
The German Social Accident Insurance (DGUV), with which she is automatically insured as a student, helped her with this. Immediately after her operation, she begins the six-month rehabilitation period in Bochum. Accident insurance gives Wend the opportunity to specifically train her muscles with the help of an exoskeleton, a kind of support corset for the lower musculoskeletal system. In a special therapy center. he learns her then a few steps to run freely. She can now walk shorter distances, but she has been confined to a wheelchair for most of her life.
When Britta Wend returned to sports college in October 2019, she became aware of wheelchair tennis. She knows the national coach Niklas Höfken, who teaches tennis. A happy coincidence. He asks her if she could imagine trying the sport. She doesn’t think twice. “After the first few training sessions, it quickly became clear to me that I wanted to move on.”
The passion for the yellow ball is no coincidence, as a child she liked to play tennis. Another point that convinces the young woman is the inclusive possibilities of sport. “Tennis is a sport that can be adapted to everyone.” In the Paralympic version, the ball is allowed to bounce twice before being returned over the net.
Another sport is no longer an option for Wend. After his accident, he experienced a worthy farewell to his old hobby, handball. In a game of her former team, she is substituted and thus can
throw the last seven meters of his career, standing up. An emotional moment that you will never forget.
Since that day, Wend has focused entirely on wheelchair tennis. She is a talented player who learns quickly. Big tournaments are now part of her daily life: here a match in Germany, there a competition abroad with the national team. She also has the DGUV to thank for the fact that her studies are sometimes affected, but tennis can still come first. The benefits of the responsible accident insurer also include a pension that gives you the freedom to continue working hard towards your great goal.
Britta Wend wants to play for Germany in Paris
Britta Wend experienced her personal highlight during the World Team Cup qualification in Portugal. She there she competed in doubles for the first time in May with Katharina Krüger. The duo created a bit of a sensation by reaching the finals and now they are in the finals in October. “It’s good to have someone you can orient yourself to,” she says of her experienced teammate, who competes at the Tokyo Paralympics.
Britta Wend also dreams of such participation: she wants to be more than just the doubles partner of the German number one, although there is still a long way to go. “For the near future it’s about climbing the world ranking,”
says national coach Niklas Höfken. Wend is currently number 101 and thus already the second best player in Germany behind Krüger. If things continue at this rate, the Paris Paralympics in 2024 should not be that far away.
Until then, Britta Wend wants to further improve the visibility of her sport. She is a big fan of inclusive tennis tournaments involving wheelchair users and pedestrians: “If a club member sees wheelchair users on the court, they may tell their wheelchair neighbors of wheels and they too will come closer.”
This visibility should be taken for granted. “A phrase like ‘You still play sports’ suggests that my life is worse than everyone else’s,” she says. That is wrong and fuels the fear that people will end up in a wheelchair. “N/A-
Of course there are obstacles, but you don’t have a worse life per se.” Some people even prayed for her. “No one has to do that, because life has always been good to me,” she says. You can see that on the tennis court on this day in July. Britta Wend seems like a happy young woman with ambitious goals. Or as she says, “I’m an athlete, just like everyone else.”
This text is part of this year’s Paralympic newspaper. All the texts of our digital series can be found here. You can read all the latest decisions and developments on our Paralympic Games blog.