Growing up with spina bifida, Candice Combdon would never have guessed she’d be one of the top-ranked players in her sport.
As someone who was not particularly active growing up, Combdon says she never expected she’d become an athlete, but fell in love with wheelchair tennis after trying it out for the first time about eight years ago for the first time during a Have A Go Day hosted by the Ontario Para Network.
“Growing up, I watched tennis with my mom and was a big fan, so when I realized I could play it in a wheelchair, I thought I would give it a try,” she told BarrieToday.
Sure enough, Combdon had a blast and fell in love with the sport, adding one of the things she loves is simply person she becomes when she is on the court.
“I am a more confident person. I feel like I am a different person and I have so much fun,” she said. “I have so much respect for the game and what it takes to play tennis — whether it’s able-bodied or in a wheelchair.
"Being out there and being active has made a world of difference.”
Over the years, Combdon ended up wearing away all of the cartilage in her right knee from the way she was walking. She began experiencing significant pain in her knee when she was only in the fifth grade, undergoing multiple surgeries and experiencing recurring infections over the next 17 years. Finally, when she was 30, she’d had enough.
“I decided I didn’t want to go through that any more. I was miserable and unhappy, so I went and asked for the amputation," Combdon said.
Now, four years after having her right leg amputated — and only eight years after taking up the sport — the 34-year-old Springwater Township resident is set to travel to Montreal, where she will compete at the wheelchair tennis national championships from Nov. 4-7. She is currently ranked sixth in Canada in the women’s division and 13th in the men’s division. She is ranked No. 206 internationally and hopes to move up the ranks this year now that she is able to compete again.
“The first time I went was two years ago when I was just starting to train a little bit more seriously with Team Ontario. I didn’t do too well as I wasn’t working as hard as I am now. I am definitely excited to see my progression," she said. “I have been working, even throughout the pandemic… so I am excited to see the difference in my own game play and how I am on the court.
"I'm excited to get out and compete again. I never thought I would miss competing, but these last few years have been hard.”
Combdon also serves as an athlete ambassador with the Ontario Para Network, the governing body for wheelchair tennis, rugby and basketball, often attending events and answering questions about her sport.
“People don’t really know about it, especially wheelchair tennis. Rugby and basketball people know about, but wheelchair tennis doesn’t get the same notice. I’m not sure why that is... so making people aware that this is a thing, and that it’s possible for those who want to come out and play has been the biggest challenge.
"I am a very big advocate in making people aware that it’s a great thing and a way to get out there and be active and have fun.”
Combdon has come a long way from the insecure and shy girl she used to be and credits her involvement with wheelchair tennis for making her who she is now.
“I feel like wheelchair tennis chose me. It wasn’t really a choice for me. … It fell into my lap and I am honestly a more confident person. I am more outgoing. I am in the best shape of my life at 34 years old,” she said. “I grew up being very introverted… knowing I was different and not wanting to be.
"Now, I have learned to embrace that and realize that I am allowed as a disabled woman to take up space in the world, which it biggest take away.”