Poetry on wheels - Esther Vergeer
When you lose the ability to use your legs when you are not even 10 years old, when you are consigned to a pair of wheels for the rest of your life, when you pretty much have every conceivable odd lined up against you, it takes an Esther Vergeer to come out all guns blazing!
Chances are you might still be wondering who Esther Vergeer is. To put it mildly, she is the most dominating athlete the world has ever seen! This Dutchwoman threw in the towel earlier this year not because it was time to go, but because winning more, according to her, wouldn’t really add much more to her resplendent career.
Ladies and gentlemen, presenting to you the little-known, all-conquering juggernaut on wheels, Esther Vergeer. Rhetoric apart, this 31-year-old bid adieu to wheelchair tennis with an unbeaten 470 match winning streak and was ensconced as numero uno for 668 weeks!
Her disability stems from a dicey spinal surgery she underwent when she was just eight. Her life was saved, but the operation left her paralysed. She learnt to play volleyball, basketball and lawn tennis during rehabilitation. Some years down the line, with some club level experience behind her, Esther was asked to join the national wheelchair basketball team and gave a pretty good account of herself. She was part of the Dutch team that won the 1987 European Championships.
Being good at both basketball and tennis, she had to make a call on choosing one of them and duly went with the latter. Her reasoning for doing so was that she didn’t want to depend on teammates who may not possess the same single-mindedness or killer instinct as her. She wanted to fashion her own destiny and didn’t want any reason beyond her control to infringe upon it. The good times had just begun.
Two years since making the switch, she was breathing down the neck of the then World No.1 Daniela Di Toro. Her US Open Championship singles win over this very player catapulted her to World No. 2. A year later, she was anointed World No 1. With a few hiccups here and there, she regained the top spot a year later after briefly being dethroned and has not looked back since. The honours kept coming; the toil and sweat finding the recourse in the countless insignias now bejewelling her humble Netherlands based-Woerden residence.
Sven Groeneveld, once the coach of this world beating phenomenon is amazed at the work ethic observed by Vergeer. Groeneveld, who also coaches Caroline Wozniacki, a former World No 1, had worked with Vergeer for only a year, but he said that her drive, discipline and mental toughness had continually surprised him. He had said he was in the process of figuring out a way to inculcate those qualities in other players.
“That’s also why I’m working with her,” he had once said. “It’s just to learn and see what makes her click, because I think we can learn a lot from her mental capabilities. Whatever it is, I’m trying to find out.”
With a career win percentage of about 96 percent (700 wins and 25 losses) achieved after annexing every possible tournament the world has known, one would imagine a perfect life for this superwoman. Bloated pay cheques, swanky abodes, a name cast in gold et al are mere reveries for Esther. She once used to live with parents just to make ends meet. 13 years of inexorable top-flight tennis played with the ultimate conviction and she talking about making ends meet is shocking!
Vergeer last lost a match in 2003 to Daniela De Toro and hasn’t flinched ever since. She looked like a mortal just once in the next ten years when she succumbed to a match-point to Korie Homan in the 2008 Paralympic Games final. She wheeled over it though, with consummate ease!
She is also a 2-time winner of the Laureus Sports Awards to go with her 7 Paralympic Games titles. She once won 250 consecutive sets and went on to win 95 matches without losing a game.
Her swansong was her 470th consecutive win at the London 2012 Paralympic Games. She figured about 4 months later it was time to say goodbye to a sport she played. (Hell no! She owned it!)
Medical records call her a patient suffering from vascular myelopathy but the world knows her as the most dominating sportsperson ever suffering from vascular myelopathy. Vergeer wanted the world to know what she could do with the disability and not for the disability itself.
Way to go, Esther!