Wheelchair tennis player
In life, we meet all kinds of people. Nice people, good people, people from here, people from elsewhere. It sometimes happens that we meet people whose story moves us and transports us out of the present moment. Meeting Natalia is one of those memorable encounters that teach us that existence, more than ever, is lived in the present moment.
At the age when young girls are slowly discovering the world around them by casting a naïve look on life that is characteristic of children, Natalia Lanucha learns, in her native Poland, that she has cancer. Bone cancer so virulent that doctors are adamant: Natalia has a 1% chance of surviving. Struggling with metastases to the lungs, she underwent more than twenty surgeries over the years and passed through a battery of tests that left her mortgaged. Affected, she manages to walk, but can no longer run or jump. Yet the girl-turned-woman now dreams of representing Canada in wheelchair tennis at the next Paralympic Games in Paris in 2024. And we are not in the realm of illusion, but in the realm of possibility: “I have had a very difficult disease, says the survivor, but my parents never told me that I had a disease and that I was going to die. I was aware that it was serious, but when I saw the sick children, I said to myself: it’s me now, I’m going to be like this, it’s ok, I accept. After that, I fought, my parents helped me a lot, they were very positive from the beginning. Arrived in Canada with her family in 2006, Natalia tries to understand the basics of French and English, she who did not complete her primary school because of her precarious health. She has to learn everything, even how to study. Around her, a landscape of steep mountains dotted with roads with countless detours. Life shakes her up and she chooses to take up all the challenges that come her way. One at a time: “When I was sick, she recalls, I had a lot of limitations, my idea of becoming an athlete was over, I couldn’t do anything anymore. But I didn’t know adapted sports existed.”
This path of adapted sports opened up to her when Natalia was attending university when someone told her about Parasports Québec. While surfing Facebook, she discovered wheelchair tennis and decided to try it. She loves her experience so much that after the first practice, she buys a racket at Canadian Tire! A first racket of poor quality, but a definite interest for tennis. Over the course of research and her budding passion, she ended up in Pincourt where she met the man who would become her trainer: Étienne Bergeron. “When I get up in the morning and I’m not feeling well, illustrates the one who begins his 35th summer of coaching, and that there are 22 reasons not to do what I’m supposed to do, I think of her and I say to myself: I have nothing to complain about. I have everything to gain. It can just be inspiring for anyone, this scenario and I talk about it with the young people I train. When he met Natalia, Étienne Bergeron had in him the desire to teach wheelchair tennis. The arrival of the young player energized this desire and today, the program put in place allows us to dream big: “We are in the process of forming a wheelchair tennis community in our region”, proudly mentions the coach. While the rules for its adapted version are pretty much the same as regular tennis (apart from the player being allowed two bounces), the approach is different. Flexibility seems to be the key: “I’m not afraid to do things that are not as usual because this course is not as usual,” says Étienne. And every time I wonder what more I can do, she surprises me that she is capable of doing more. »
This desire to improve and to open the seemingly most tortuous paths today leads the 30-year-old player to perform on the biggest stages of her sport. “We are in the race to go and do all these tournaments all over the world to get the points she needs, specifies Étienne Bergeron. And you have to get experience. The Pan American Games are in November and the year after that is the Paralympic Games. We are looking for financial support to have a Paralympic athlete. That’s the dream.” This dream, Natalia carries it since childhood. Nothing, not even a small percentage of chance of survival, has diverted him from his path: “When I plan something in life, she underlines, I will go there and I will succeed. No matter how long it’s going to take, I know it’s going to happen.” The one who was unable to do her primary studies will enter the master’s degree in September after obtaining a 2nd baccalaureate. “When I was sick, I watched videos about sick people, she admits, and they inspired me a lot. I really hope one day to be someone like that for other people who are going through the same thing.” You don’t have to look far to find the people she inspires. A person stands nearby and seems ready to do anything to help him achieve his goal: “Natalia is so important to me, admits her trainer. Working with her is different from other things I do. It is exciting! To see where it comes from and where it can go is incredible. I’m so blessed to be a part of it.”
When he talks about Natalia, Étienne Bergeron’s eyes light up and see far ahead, where the practice of wheelchair tennis reveals stories so big and inspiring that they command respect.
By: Patrick Richard