Personality Profile: Ali Ataman
Ali Ataman was born in 1979 in Izmir, Turkey. In 2000, he was in a car accident that injured his spinal cord at T-6. After rehabbing in Turkey, he decided to come back to the States to continue his education. In 2004, he graduated from Seattle Pacific University with a degree in Computer Science. Since then he has been working as a software engineer and also owns a company that specializes in import/export. In 2006, Ali started playing wheelchair tennis and within three years, managed to be in the top 200 in the world and ranked number one in Turkey. In 2011, he was invited to the national team and will be competing in the World Team Cup in upcoming years.
When did you start playing tennis?
I started playing tennis when I was five. When I was nine, I joined tennis training sessions, and when I was 10, I won the state championship. It was unexpected at the time, but it definitely got the attention of a tennis club and a coach, and they asked me to train with their team. After that, tennis became very serious and important in my life.
How long after your injury were you back playing the game?
Unfortunately, it took a long time for me to get back to the game. First of all, I didn’t know that tennis could be played in wheelchairs. Nobody told me about it, I hadn’t seen it in any media. After my injury, I started sailing and that was the only sport I was doing. In 2006, six years after my accident, there was an event where they demonstrated many different sports, and I saw wheelchair tennis there taught by a great athlete, Anthony Anderson. Later on, I started training with him, and around 2007, I started playing my first tournaments.
How often do you train and compete?
The International Tennis Federation only accepts the best nine tournaments you play within a year period. Currently I play about eight tournaments in USA / Canada and about three or four in Europe. Depending on the schedule of the tournaments, I train three to six times a week. When we are off season, I play able-bodied tournaments and there have been some years I played the regular USTA Tennis League against able-body players. For the people who don’t know wheelchair tennis, a wheelchair player gets two bounces instead of one. This one extra bounce allows us to play and compete against either able-bodied or wheelchair players.
I am training to be in the Paralympics in 2016. To increase my chance to qualify for the 2016 Rio, I have to play about 20-25 tournaments in 2015, which will require me to travel all around the world.
Who inspires you both in your game and life?
I was always so impressed with the Olympians. Growing up (and even now), I watched every single competition they showed on TV. That dedication by the athletes definitely inspires me and keeps me motivated.
What are your goals for the next five years?
My main goal is to go to the Rio 2016 Paralympics.
What would a local rehabilitation center like the Healing Center mean to you in your daily life?
It would mean a lot to me and I am sure to anyone you see in wheelchairs. In my case, I train hard; I keep my body in shape and stay healthy as much as I can. But with all the exercises I do, my tennis training only helps my upper body, and nothing below my injury level. This has been a concern of mine since my accident. I believe that having an accessible rehab center would benefit me in the short term, but most importantly, I think it will be very critical and helpful in the long term.
What are your biggest challenges?
At this point I do not think that I have any challenges because I try so hard to get over them when I have to face them. When I first was injured, I had way more challenges in life. Getting into a car was a challenge, getting on a plane was a challenge. But day by day, I did my best to remove all of them.
For example, when I first started traveling for the tennis tournaments, I faced lots of issues that I had never had to face before. We would go to a tournament in a different state, and all the athletes would stay in one hotel; there were 80 wheelchair athletes and two accessible rooms. At the time, I didn’t know how to get in a regular bathtub to take a shower. So I tried and tried, until I found an effective and safe way for me to handle the issue. Now when I travel to any different country or any state, I do not even ask for an accessible room. I just leave it to the people who might really need that room.
What were your biggest motivations to meet and overcome those challenges?
I see my life the same way I saw it before my accident. If I was doing this specific thing before my injury, I tell myself, “There must be a way to do it now!” Of course you need to really work towards it sometimes. I remember when I was in university, there was this very steep hill that I really hated and actually was afraid to go up when it rained. It bothered me so much at one point that I woke up one day at 6 am on a Saturday and drove there so that I could train going up that hill. I did it over and over for hours until I felt completely comfortable doing it.
In your opinion, what is the biggest issue that the spinal cord injury community faces?
I do not think that there is enough support or awareness for people living with spinal cord injuries. I wish we get more attention towards our cause like MS or breast cancer. It’s year 2012 and it’s really sad that we do not even have a place to get some basic exercises done to our legs. Also I wish we had more sponsors to help us out with wheelchair sports
Our blog title and rehabilitation philosophy is “Mind, Body, Spirit.” What does that mean to you in your own personal life and recovery process?
I think these three words sum everything up. To achieve and succeed in something, you should really, really want it. You need to stay focused and motivated. You have to be in the right shape physically and mentally to be able to go after your goals.