For 25-years, hall of fame tennis legend Ivan Lendl has been inviting Connecticut children to spend a week focused on making friends and learning sports, and forgetting about their disabilities.
“I just love seeing them every year,” said Lendl before the camp’s tennis showcase at the University of St. Francis, on Friday.
Lendl, who posed for pictures and gave tennis tips, said his favorite part of the day is seeing the smiles on their faces.
With Lendl’s help, Jonathan Slifka’s mother started the Hospital for Special Care Ivan Lendl Adaptive Sports Camp in 1991. She wanted a place her son could go to meet with others like him and play sports, just like the camps his able-bodied brother attended each summer.
“It gives us an opportunity to be around people that we are truly equals with and we don’t feel any different when we’re around,” said Slifka.
“I probably wouldn’t be doing much in the summer, if it wasn’t for camps like this,” said Andrew Haraghey, a 19-year-old from Enfield who has attended the camps for nine years, and spent the last two as a camp counselor.
During the week-long camp children play basketball, race around the track, and play tennis. The week is capped off with a dance.
Many said the highlight is meeting Lendl.
“I think it’s awesome how much he gave and how much he gives to make this camp a success,” said Haraghey.
Haraghey, who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy said it’s the people who draw him back.
“Just the feeling you get at being successful at the sports, and the friends you make, and how it’s all kind of like a family with all the people you get to know,” he explained.
He’s not the only one who comes back year after year. Besides getting tennis tips from a pro, many say they make friends for life at camp.
“I’m the only one in my school who’s in a wheelchair. It’s nice to come and see everybody and build new relationships,” said Stephanie Marquez, of Middletown.
“I love the camp. It’s so much fun to hang out with my friends and do sports,” added Kari Craddock, of Trumbull.
All participants attend the camp for free. For more information: http://hfsc.org/community/hsc-adaptive-sports-program/hospital-special-care-ivan-lendl-adaptive-sports-camp.