Harlon Matthews Says Don’t Fight Your Disability, Use It To Your Advantage

Editor’s Note: Today, Harlon Matthews is a therapeutic recreational specialist, coordinates the wheelchair sports for Henry County Parks and Recreation and is a certified tennis instructor. He not only teaches wheelchair tennis but also private lessons to junior tennis players. He’s a tennis tournament director, he’s the chairperson for the USTA Georgia Wheelchair Committeeand serves on the USTA Southern Wheelchair Committee and the USTA National Wheelchair Committee. Part 5 of a 5 part series.

Tennis has opened several doors for Matthews.

Tennis has opened several doors for Matthews.

Matthews says, “Tennis is the one sport that opened several doors for me, and I’m in awe of what wheelchair tennis is doing for others. I’m happy to help everyone–able bodied and those in wheelchairs–succeed in tennis. This is my calling in life. USTA Georgia now calculates points for wheelchair players, just like they do for those who are able bodied. This process is new because there weren’t enough wheelchair tennis players to create a need for a point system. USTA contacted me about calculating points for rankings, but the number of players in Georgia has risen significantly. A committee was formed, and we created four tournaments for wheelchair tennis players.”

USTA was very supportive about the rising number of wheelchair players and tournaments. Photo source

USTA was very supportive about the rising number of wheelchair players and tournaments. Photo source

The Atlanta Open took place May 8, 2012, the Geranium Festival Tournament that I direct, is June 1-3, and the Augusta Tournament is the middle of June. The players accumulate state and national points. Then, the top players from each division earn an invitation to the Grand Prix Championship from October 26-28, 2012 at the Peachtree City Tennis Center. This tennis competition won’t be limited to just Georgia wheelchair tennis players, and we have other states talking to us about sending their top players in each division to the championships in October. We have good support from USTA National, USTA Southern and USTA Georgia for these events, as well as many local sponsors. We want this to become a huge event.”

Matthews hopes to always support those in and out of wheelchairs and to provide fun sports camps for everyone. Matthews believes that if he does this, his life will go where it’s supposed to go. He’s very humbled, pleased and thrilled with what’s happened in his life so far, and he says, “I’m excited to see what’s going to happen in the future. At the beginning of my disability, all I could do was ask, ‘Why me?’ But, once I opened my eyes and heart and learned to be patient – as hard as that was – eventually, I learned the reason why my life was the way it was. I learned that whether you’re pushing to get around, walking or crawling, there’s a purpose to be found. One day, if you keep searching, you’ll learn what that purpose is.”

The best advice Matthews can give anyone is, “Don’t fight your disability. Find what the purpose of that disability is. I believe the reason for my successful life is because I’ve accepted who I am. When I did that, I understood everything about my life and its purpose. I believe that life is all about taking all your experiences and using them for a reason. People go through hardships for a reason. Going through those bad experiences is terrible, but what you do with that experience is the important part. Perhaps you needed to go through that bad experience to minister to other people. Maybe you can help someone who’s going though that same type of experience. You get to make the choice of whether you let a bad experience or a disability beat you up the rest of your life, or you use that experience to help other people.”

Matthews found his calling in life. Here he is with some amazing players, one being Pete Sampras, the king of swing!

Matthews found his calling in life. Here he is with some amazing players, one being Pete Sampras, the king of swing!

For more information, please visit www.ustageorgia.com/wheelchair/index.htm and the USTA Georgia Facebook page that has a wheelchair section. If you have any questions, contact Harlon Matthews at hmatthews@co.henry.ga.us.

About the Author: For the last 12 years, John E. Phillips of Vestavia, Alabama, has been a professional blogger for major companies, corporations and tourism associations throughout the nation. During his 24 years as Outdoor Editor for “The Birmingham Post-Herald” newspaper, he published more than 7,000 newspaper columns and sold more than 100,000 of his photos to newspapers, magazines and internet sites. He also hosted a radio show that was syndicated at 27 radio stations; created, wrote and sold a syndicated newspaper column that ran in 38 newspapers for more than a decade; and wrote and sold more than 30 books. Learn more at http://www.nighthawkpublications.com

The Moment Harlon Matthews Decided That His Life’s Purpose Is To Help Others

Editor’s Note: After a major accident, illness or life-changing catastrophe, we have to find out who we are, who we are going to become and how we will get through life differently than originally planned. A wise person asks these questions and diligently searches for the answers to them. Some find the answers quickly, but for others, the answer takes longer. However, the answer is always there for those who seek it. Part 4 of a 5 part series.

Harlon Matthews' motivation to help others is contagious!

Harlon Matthews’ motivation to help others is contagious!

Matthews was encouraged by two world class athletes. Randy Snow told him that he was a natural born athlete and Karin Korb became a positive mentor. However, Matthews’ view of life completely changed after one significant moment at the sports camp in Warm Springs. “We played rugby at this camp,” Matthews explains. “This sport is primarily for quadriplegics, but paraplegics played too, so they could at least see what it was like. On my team was a boy named Nate, who was in a power chair that he operated with a head rest. We were substituting in and out during the game, and I said to another player on my team, ‘Let’s give the ball to Nate.’ I got the ball and put it in Nate’s lap. Nate couldn’t move his arms at all, and the ball fell out of his lap. I picked up the ball and wedged it between his arm and his leg rest, so that it couldn’t fall out. Then, the rest of the team and myself started blocking for Nate. Nate got through the traffic and scored. You could tell this moment was huge for him. I realized I was a part of his success and enabled him to score. In that one moment when I saw Nate’s face and saw what an accomplishment this was, I realized that’s what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”

Harlon Matthews is always reaching out to others with a helping hand.

Harlon Matthews is always reaching out to others with a helping hand.

Matthews’ path in life was not about what he didn’t have, but what he could do for others to help them meet their potential. He learned that his life was about what he could do for others. He was a natural born athlete, a compassionate person and someone who was willing to help others. 

Today Matthews is the Wheelchair Sports Coordinator for Parks and Recreation in Henry County, Georgia. Matthews explains, “What was really cool was sports, which I’d always loved, were the tools that created this transformation in me. I had a rebirth of energy, and I now knew what my life was all about, and what my purpose in life was. As I look back over my life, I now see that everything I’d experienced from day one of my disability was moving me toward this sports camp and this learning experience. All the times I suffered through with my disability were being used to mold me into the person I am today.”

Next: Harlon Matthews Says Don’t Fight Your Disability, Use It To Your Advantage

About the Author: For the last 12 years, John E. Phillips of Vestavia, Alabama, has been a professional blogger for major companies, corporations and tourism associations throughout the nation. During his 24 years as Outdoor Editor for “The Birmingham Post-Herald” newspaper, he published more than 7,000 newspaper columns and sold more than 100,000 of his photos to newspapers, magazines and internet sites. He also hosted a radio show that was syndicated at 27 radio stations; created, wrote and sold a syndicated newspaper column that ran in 38 newspapers for more than a decade; and wrote and sold more than 30 books. Learn more at http://www.nighthawkpublications.com

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