March 16, 2005 - For David Wagner, the allure of being an Olympic champion was always present. The consummate athlete, Wagner was an avid sportsman excelling in many sports.
That was before one terrible day in August 1995 when a tumble in a wave on a California beach broke his neck and paralyzed him. Now, he's a world-class Olympics athlete with numerous gold medals and even endorsements to peddle underwear.
Wagner is one of the premier wheelchair tennis players in the nation. At the recent United States Tennis Association's Southwest Wheelchair Classic held March 3 through 6 at the Hilton Tucson El Conquistador Golf & Tennis Resort, Wagner demonstrated once again why he's tops in his field, winning a silver medal in singles play and a gold medal in doubles action.
The new hardware is just a sample of the many medals earned by the Oro Valley resident.
To compete as a quadriplegic, you must have at least three of four limbs that are affected. The wave that broke Wagner's neck left him without the use of his legs and caused damage to both his hands. Like most in the quadriplegic division, Wagner must heavily tape his racquet to his hand for every match.
In wheelchair tennis, the rules are the same as in standard tennis, except that players are allowed two bounces before hitting the ball over the net.
An excess of tape hasn't seemed to slow down any of his volleys, however.
Wagner's success has shot him up the ranks of the USTA's wheelchair division, where he sits in the No. 1 spot.
Last September, he became the only United States Olympic tennis player, abled or disabled, to win two medals at the 2004 Athens games. After taking a silver medal in singles play, he teamed up with doubles partner Nick Taylor of Wichita, Kan., to win the gold at the Paralympic Games.
"I guess I always thought it would be great," said Wagner of becoming an Olympic athlete.
Earning a pile of medals doesn't come easy. Wagner spends three to four days a week working out on the court and either lifts weights, swims or rides a hand bike every day.
"It's almost a full-time dedication," said Wagner, "but it's a level I want to take it to."
Before the accident, Wagner was a passionate tennis player and a member of the Walla Walla Community College men's basketball team in Washington.
At UA, Wagner has taken that competitive edge to tennis and to the school's wheelchair rugby team.
Even with success at UA, the Oro Valley resident made his mark on the USTA tour, which has taken him all over the nation and overseas.
"It's a good way to travel and see the world," Wagner said.
To be able to experience all the world has to offer, however, you must find sponsors to help cover costs. Wagner's sponsors include Home Depot, Invacare, Nike and Euroconcepts, a company that designs athletic undergarments for disabled athletes.
On March 10, Wagner and his doubles partner, Mark Hansen, put the finishing touches on their gold medal at the El Conquistador Classic, beating Bryan Barton and Eric Daniels 6-2, 2-6, 6-3.
All three players are teammates of Wagner's at UA.
"I know his game and still he beats me," joked Barton after the match. "His worst weakness is still better than my best."
Hansen said he was able to beat Wagner, once. It was a feat he pulled off in three sets during Wagner's first match in a chair.
"I don't think I've barely won a game since," Hansen said.