For 24-year old Frenchman Guillaume Legendre, tragedy morphed into the beginning of a new sports career. Returning to France after attending the University of Texas at Arlington, he plays wheelchair tennis and basketball, emphasizing in an e-mail conversation how unlike the common outdated thinking of years past, wheelchair or not, these sports are all real.
Did you always play sports? When did you start?
Yes. I used to play rugby and soccer before my car crash and I started wheelchair basketball one year after the accident and tennis one year ago!
Which is more fun for you, basketball or tennis? What are you good and bad at doing in each?
I love both. I always practiced team sports so that’s why I started with basketball. I love team spirit, etc. so that’s why I think my priority is basketball, but I was playing tennis before the accident so its a real pleasure to feel the same sensation even if it’s in a wheelchair! We had very good results for our first year in tennis so that’s why I want to practice more: to see if we can play to the top level soon! It’s very hard to play both because we have practice every day and games or tournaments every weekend! It’s hard, but this is what I love. Sports are all my life! Sports helped me to recover after that accident and I can’t imagine my life without sports.
Why do you think Americans don’t care about wheelchair sports when every other country televises them?
I’m really surprised about your question because it’s worse in France. There is no information about wheelchair sports here. I was very surprised to see how far people like wheelchair sports in the USA when I played in Texas. It was incredible to get a full scholarship to play wheelchair sports. Here in France, it’s impossible!!!
Who do you admire in sports, past or present?
My favorite ever is Zinedine Zidane (not sure you know him other there ahah), the best French soccer player he is a so simple guy, really shy and friendly. Now he is done with soccer, but he have many association to help children, etc.
You used to live in Texas and went to UT-Arlington! What did you study there? I thought Texas was very different compared to Illinois when I went to UT-Austin. What did you think about Texas, coming from France?
I got a scholarship to play wheelchair basketball to UTA and I had physical therapy classes just one year after I begin practice. It was amazing to fly to a new country alone. My English isn’t very good and the first week was very hard, but people are so friendly that they helped me to feel like home. This team was like a family and I have my best sports memories in Texas. I love this state. People are friendly and take it easy, not as French people who always complain and are lazy. UTA is the best place all over the world for wheelchair basketball and I like Dallas. I never moved from France before this trip so it was crazy to play basketball all over the country!!!!
What do you do for fun when you aren’t playing sports?
I love to eat at restaurants with my friends, have a drink in my native town Dijon, and every time I can I fly to a new country. I love to visit and discover the world. Wheelchair sports gave me the possibility to do that, so I love my life now. I don’t know what kind of life I could have without this accident, but I’m pretty sure my new life is ten times more exiting than the regular job in my town I was supposed to have!! I also love movies and American TV shows. After a practice, I can watch ten episodes in a row if I like it.
I also created an association a few months ago to help children in rehab centers from poor countries, and we are going to bring them wheelchairs and show them some sports and make them try different wheelchair sports. I fly to Tunisia in March for a festival and will bring some T-shirts, balls and wheelchairs. I can’t wait to be there.
What can you tell people who have not visited France about how life is different and the same?
France is a wonderful country. We have the best food and wine from all over the world. (French people are sure about that like you can see ) Everybody knows Paris, the Eiffel Tower, etc., but there are so many other wonderful places to visit there! Life is very different here!!!
What is something about you people don’t know?
I’m not a very chatty boy about my self. I don’t like to complain and it’s helped me to accept my disability quickly. Now I walk very well with a crutch so I’m sure most of the people don’t realize how big my disability is. Most of the people ask me if I have a knee trouble or bad ankle so it’s funny. I’m sure they can’t realize know how painful it is, but I’m proud of that because I hate people who complain and never go forward!!
What do you want to do within say, the next five years with sports? What about personally?
I came back to my native town team. It’s a small team, but we all started ball together few year ago and we now start to have good results and I want to stay a few more years to see if we can be part of the first division. About the national team, I have to practice to be faster and maybe I can be part of it one day. I only miss speed in my game. About tennis, we are two players on my team and we want to be part of the 12 best French players (category one) and why not one day be part of the national team? I know one day I will go back to the USA to be part of a university wheelchair sport program, tennis or basketball. I dream to go back to Texas to finish my studies there. Even if I run my own business here, it’s a dream to play again for this team.
If you could explain to sponsors – specifically big companies like Nike, Reebok, etc. – why it is important sponsoring wheelchair athletes with funding equal to non-wheelchair athletes, what can you say?
It’s very important to show people that we are regular people. It’s not because we are disabled that we are so much different than regular people. We have to prove that wheelchair sport is a real sport just with an accessory … the wheelchair. Most of the guys are real athletes and practice every day. In most of the country, here in Europe, you can be paying to play, but it’s hard to find money in France to sponsor wheelchair sports. Too many people saw wheelchair sports like a way to occupy disabled people, but if we can change mind and show them that we are real athletes, I’m sure they will help us. (Hard to answer this one. My English sucks and I can’t explain really well what I think. )
Please tell us information about your basketball and tennis and where you have played or will play such as your new basketball team! And where people can see you! Accomplishments also.
I play basketball in my native town in Dijon, Burgundy (country of wine) and we have games all over France. In the past, I played all over the USA: Chicago, Illinois, Minnesota, Alabama, Arizona so it was amazing for a 20-year old French guy to discover that with basketball. About tennis, we had tournaments all over France last year and next month we will go to our first international tournament im Prague and we want to participate in a Texas tournament in 2011.
Is there anything you want to say about yourself, your family, the city you live in, etc.?
I want to thank again all my family and my rugby friends who helped me to go forward after my accident. I created my own business to sell an American wheelchair brand all over Europe and I love that. It’s always a pleasure to see a player try his new chair and be happy like a child. So, like you see, wheelchair sports are the biggest part of my life.
Interview originally from KrystleNicoleRussin.com