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Southwestern Graduate Earns a Spot on the U.S. Paralympic Team

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    Steve Baldwin

English major Steve Baldwin is competing in wheelchair tennis

A Southwestern University graduate is among the athletes who will be representing the United States in the 2012 Paralympic Games, which will be held in London Aug. 29-Sept. 9.

Steve Baldwin will be among 112 wheelchair tennis competitors from around the world vying for medals in the Paralympics. The competition will take place at Eton Manor, a 10,500-seat venue in London’s Olympic Park that was built specifically for wheelchair tennis.

Baldwin, who friends describe as a natural athlete, was a soccer player in high school before he was injured in a car accident. He took tennis as a PE credit at Southwestern and then continued playing the game with classmates.

“I always thought it was impressive how good he was with such little training,” said his former roommate, Michael Cravey. “I was a serviceable player and he could regularly beat me.”

After graduating from Southwestern in 1995 with a degree in English, Baldwin became even more serious about playing wheelchair tennis. He was named to the U.S World Team Cup in 2001, and in 2002, he achieved two career-high rankings − No. 10 in singles in the world and No. 13 in doubles in the world.

Baldwin left the game in 2002 to enroll in graduate school and in 2008 he earned a master’s degree in English literature from San Diego State University.

About a year and half ago, Baldwin said he got the itch to play again.

“I had always wanted to go to the Olympics, and my wife, Francesca, suggested that I try,” he said.  

Baldwin started playing tournaments again last June and gradually started to rebuild his ranking. After playing a grueling schedule of 23 tournaments all over the world between June 2011 and May 2012, he was able to rebuild his ranking to approximately number 55 in the world by the May 20 cutoff date to qualify for the Paralympics.

The top 46 men in the world automatically qualified for the Paralympics, but Baldwin was fortunate to qualify for one of the remaining spots through a wildcard process. He found out in the middle of June that he had been selected and he and other team members attended a training camp in Minnesota the first week in August to prepare for the upcoming games.

The team is leaving for London Aug 23. and will be there through Sept. 10. Baldwin will compete in both singles and doubles.

“I am literally just thrilled to be going,” he said. Baldwin plans to keep up a blog about his experience at the Paralympics.

This is the sixth time that wheelchair tennis has been part of the Paralympic Games. The sport was introduced in 1988 as an exhibition event before becoming a full medal sport at the 1992 Paralympic Games in Barcelona, Spain.  

Cravey and other classmates of Baldwin’s from Southwestern said they will be eagerly following how he does at the games.  

“I couldn’t be happier for him,” Cravey said. “I think he is a true champion athlete at heart and he has had a very tough road to realize that dream. It has been a real inspiration for me and my family to see him make it.”