At the age of 27 Joel Dembe is still one of the youngest wheelchair tennis players in Canada. “The best player in Canada is 10 years older,” says Joel, getting ready for his practice session at the Toronto Tennis Academy where he trains with his coach Ben Armstrong. “But this is why I want to take time off work and focus 100% on my game. If I want to be the best in the country, I really have to practice every day and play many more tournaments.”
So next month Joel will start his journey to accomplish just that: to be the number one wheelchair tennis player in Canada, and represent the country at the 2012 Paralympics Games in London. “I have about a year and a half to get ready,” Joel says. Playing every day will definitely help, but there is also the fitness aspect, and tournament play. Because of his work schedule (Joel works at TD as a marketing analyst), playing a full schedule was never possible, so there was that extra pressure to do well. “Now,” says Joel, “I am planning to play in about 18 tournaments, mainly in the US and Canada, but perhaps in places as far as South Africa.”
Joel figures now is the best time to fully commit to tennis. “You know, when you get a bit older you just have to slow down a bit,” he says with a wry grin. “But I still hope to represent Canada at the 2015 PanAm Paralympics in Toronto. And to think, it all started about ten years ago at a wheel chair tennis demonstration in Hamilton, where Frank Peter Jr., Canada’s former top wheelchair tennis player, was trying to pass on his own passion for the sport to kids like Joel.
“I was always active, playing sledge hockey, participating in track and field, but the moment I took the tennis racquet in my hands I simply knew that this was going to be my sport.”
A decade later, Joel is ranked number 3 in Canada and 77 in the World. “But I really hope that this next several months of solid training will help me to get that much better so I can take over the number one ranking in the country ,” says Joel with the determination befitting his lofty ambitions.