BROADVIEW HEIGHTS, Ohio — Every week, Bruce Smallwood, Jim Bowers and Ivan Cugel meet at Center Court Tennis Club in Broadview Heights, where they participate in a program for players with Parkinson's disease.
"It's pretty much common knowledge that exercise is one of the best therapies for Parkinson's and keeps you moving," Jim told 3News.
But these players get so much more than just physical activity out of the sport.
"They're really committed to helping us out and they're very kind and respectful and patient and make us feel good about ourselves," Ivan said of the program.
That program, Thrive Through Tennis, aims to share the benefits of the sport with players of all kinds.
"Our program is all about tennis, health, results, inspiration, value, and education," explained Nancy Sobecks, the owner of Center Court Tennis Club, and VP of Thrive Through Tennis.
A retired medical doctor, Sobecks believes the health benefits of tennis can be shared with all.
"We really try to adapt the program so that it meets them where they're at in their skillsets and they can enjoy the game in a way that might be different from you or I, but they still really get to experience what tennis can be like," she said.
Thrive Through Tennis currently runs five different programs; For adult and youth with different abilities, they offer both adaptive tennis and wheelchair tennis programs. Their Homeschool Tennis Academy offers homeschooled children and teens an opportunity to develop tennis skills, and their Parkinson's program is comprised of a 45 minute exercise session specifically designed to help rigidity, bradykinesia, coordination and balance, followed by 1 hour of tennis instruction and play.
They also have an Empower program, which was created to teach life skills to men, women and children through fun and interactive programming.
This inspiring work couldn’t be done without the team of dedicated volunteers and tennis lovers, who make it all happen.
"It's so fun, it's so rewarding," said volunteer Delaney Brown. "You could be having the worst day and you come and these guys are always so happy and so excited to be here and to play. And it's a workout for me too, so it's fun to run around with all of them."
And as 3News Anchor Jay Crawford and 3News Contributor Matt Kaulig quickly learned, Thrive celebrates both the physical and social benefits of the sport with all players.
"If you even imagine seeing all these kids with the huge smiles on their faces maybe brings a lot of joy and happiness for all these kids," adaptive player Joey Sorace told Matt and Jay. "To have some fun, go out there, hit the ball, being with everybody...And that's what I love tennis so much being with everybody."
Connections. That’s what brings all of the players here together, like 5 year old Emma Deaconu, who is homeschooled.
"Cause there's like a lot of kids in a group," she told Matt. "My mom signed me up so I can play...and to be nice and healthy."
And of course, it's a chance to focus on fun.
"Oh, I think the best thing I like about it is the people. [I've gotten to meet friends like] Jimmy and Ivan," said Parkinson's program player Bruce Smallwood. "You meet different people and everyone's always smiling and stuff. We love that."
You can learn more about how to volunteer or participate with one of Thrive Through Tennis' programs here.