Bridging the gap between disabled and abled, a pioneer in wheelchair tennis and beloved college coach, one would never be able to guess by his nonchalant manners and sarcastic wit, just how many lives Paul Walker has positively influenced in his many years of coaching.
While he never envisioned himself as a coach, his love for the sport made it an inevitable road to follow.
“I wanted a path to be able to stay in the sport, and stay competitive, without personally competing,” Walker said. “I transferred my competitive playing nature into a competitive coaching nature.”
Competitive nature is an understatement when describing Walker’s history and impact on the world of sports. Walker started his career as a baseball player at Florida Southern College, where he is now approaching his seventh year coaching women’s tennis.
He describes the environment of collegiate sports as unparalleled and appreciates how different opportunities lead him to college coaching.
“It’s a tremendous environment of dedicated young student athletes and I respect that and recognize that at the stage of life they are in they do need guidance,” Walker said.
Walker accomplishments are just as, or even greater, on the professional level. Playing on the professional wheelchair tennis circuit for eight years, Walker reached a career high of no. 31 in the world and even competed in the first US Open wheelchair tennis competition.
As a coach, Walker has mentored world renowned players and even had the opportunity to travel to the Tokyo Olympics in 2021.
Walker finds inspiration in the small aspects of the sport, like watching young “bright-eyed, enthusiastic” freshmen mature and find their way in the world. He describes the four years of college as a pivotal moment in individuals lives and looks forward to seeing the athletes he is coaching preparing for the life ahead of them.
“It’s not that I’m happy to see them go, but I’m proud to see them go, there’s an important difference there,” Walker said.
Despite the adversities he has faced, Walker displays nothing but positive energy and determination in his everyday life.
“Folks look at someone like me with a prominent physical disability and think ‘“wow he must have been through a lot and faced a lot of adversity,” Walker said. “One thing I’ve learned from being around a little … is that everybody has gone through adversity, everybody has dealt with something or is dealing with something, some are just more prominently displayed than others.”
Walker embraces his disability expressing how it has allowed him to positively impact others lives.
“I may have the ability to help people deal with whatever their adversities are,” Walker said.
Falling back on his never-ending charm, Walker jokes “and who knows, maybe the chair even gives me a little street cred.”