By (Jenny Hudson)

Two years ago Shelby Baron became the first full-time tennis 
player for The University of Alabama’s wheelchair tennis team after picking up the sport at 10 years old. Now at age 22, Baron is competing with Team USA in the Paralympics in Rio.

But Rio was not always in her plans. She had accepted that 2016 was not going to be the year she became a Paralympian and set her sights on Tokyo in 2020. Then on her 22 
birthday, Aug. 12, the senior received a call from her nationals coach, Dan James, while helping freshmen move into dorms and everything changed.

James informed Baron that because of a last minute drop due to a German injury, she needed to let him know that night if she wanted to go to Rio. Still in shock, the Hawaii native called her mom to share her birthday news, but Rhoda Baron was still sleeping and missed the call when her phone rang at 3:59 a.m. in Hawaii.

She immediately called her daughter back, hoping everything was OK. After apologizing for the early call, Shelby broke the news.

“She started gushing about receiving a call notifying her that she was receiving a wildcard to go to Rio,” Rhoda Baron said. “She chattered on and through my grogginess, I clarified my understanding, ‘You’re going to Rio? For the Paralympics?’ The realization that she was selected to go to Rio woke me up. …”

The birthday excitement quickly turned into training mode. Thankfully, Shelby spent her summer with the Alabama wheelchair tennis team competing in tournaments to stay in the game. On Aug. 15, Shelby flew to Minnesota to for what she described as an “intensive four-day training” with her Team USA teammates.

When she returned to the Univ- ersity, nothing slowed down. She continued to practice with her Alabama teammates five days a week, lifting weights and getting extra time on the court whenever possible, all while taking classes.

Shelby, currently ranked No. 4 in the U.S., will be competing in doubles starting on Friday, with four possible rounds, and singles starting on Saturday, with five possible rounds. Even though she will have textbooks with her, Baron is looking forward to taking in the excitement of Rio.

“I’m going to be representing Team USA with hundreds of other athletes out there and even at the same venues as they held the regular Olympics,” Shelby Baron said. “… It just blows my mind. I feel it’s such an honor to be able to represent my country in a way that everybody 
else is.”

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Source:: The Crimson White Sports