I was a pretty sporty kid when I was younger. I played any sport under the sun. Loved soccer, loved ice hockey. When I was diagnosed I had no appreciation of how my life would change.
I went through chemo and multiple surgeries. They removed my hip, irradiated it, put it back in with a partial hip replacement and I was told I’d never play soccer again. After the surgery, I had 6 weeks bed rest. It was hard to stomach, coming to terms with what had happened and what was still to come. Following the surgery I contracted an infection which they treated but it returned after the ninth of the ten planned chemo sessions and spent the next two years on IV antibiotics. I had another 19 operations, which ended in the complete removal of my right hip, this leaves my right leg 10cm shorter than my left. I feel very lucky that I can still walk. I use a cane mostly and for longer distances I use a wheelchair. It was a really hard time for my family as well, being one of 4 brothers with the youngest only 6 months old when I was diagnosed. It meant mum was going from home to hospital and dad from work to hospital and sometimes home. Grandma was a life saver and the whole community helped me and my family. For 3 years, from Year 8 – Year 10 I was in and out of hospital and missed about 2 years of schooling. I was totally depressed and thought my future was doomed.
Towards the end of 2006, I was sitting watching TV and playing computer games (my social life was extremely limited while I was sick) when my parents asked me if I wanted to try out wheelchair sport. Up until that point, I had denied anything that they suggested… but this one was different. I went to a ‘Wheelchair Sport NSW Come and Try’ day. I really wasn’t interested in wheelchair basketball and convinced my dad it was time to go. Just as we were about to leave, one of ‘the organisers’ came over and encouraged me to try tennis. I don’t know why that struck a chord, but I definitely wanted to give it a try. ‘The organiser’ that had approached me was actually Mick Connell; previously #3 in the world in wheelchair tennis. When I jumped in the tennis wheelchair that day, it was the first bit of exercise I had done in over 3 years. I absolutely loved it. I wasn’t great at it; my backhand was non-existent and I couldn't move the chair to save my life, but being out there in the sun and getting my heart racing… I felt alive. It changed the course of my life. I had no idea what was possible, I just knew I wanted to play.
After 5 months of training my coach suggested that I attend a junior camp in Adelaide. It was an amazing experience meeting the other athletes. I got to see that there were other teenagers with similar challenges, but very different life experiences and I loved watching them play. I remember vividly at the Junior Camp, on the last day, we had a play off. I had no idea we were playing for anything in particular. A week later, the national coach called me and told me I’d been selected for the Australia Junior team to go to Poland and Sweden to complete. I was overwhelmed, so excited and it was an incredible moment in my life. I was 16. When I went to World Team Cup I got to see the best players in the world and I told myself that I wanted to be the best. Since then I have dedicated myself to becoming the best tennis player I can be.
To be a pro athlete, you need focus, dedication and resilience. You need to have a vision of what you want to achieve and why. It’s all well and good to say you want to be the best but if you don’t have a why behind it, it’s hard to maintain the early mornings and intense training sessions. At first I was doing it because I loved sport and I saw it as an amazing opportunity to be active, travel and meet new people. Now I’m doing it because I want to know how good I can get and I want to use it as a platform to share my message that anyone can overcome adversity and live an amazing life. It’s all about mindset, planning and willpower. Tennis is an amazing opportunity for me to make the most of this lifetime. In the last few years I’ve beaten quite a few of the top 10 players. I beat the current #3 in the world last year as well as getting pretty close to the #1 as well.
My lead up to Rio was a huge challenge, I injured my shoulder in late May and had to take 7 weeks off tennis. I did everything I could to get healthy in time, lots of rehab and physio 3 times a week. I also had regular acupuncture and saw a chiropractor/osteopath to ensure I covered every base. I got back on court towards the end of July and built up my training time and intensity over the following weeks. I didn't know if I was going to be ready for competition but had peace of mind knowing that I was doing absolutely everything in my control to recover in time. In the end I met the strength target necessary for competition the day before we flew to Miami for training camp. We were in Miami for a week to spend time together as a team, limit our distractions and focus on the upcoming games in Rio. Our team included the wheelchair tennis team manager, physio, 2 coaches and 4 players including myself. It was a really positive atmosphere, everyone was working towards the common goal of performing well and I'm really grateful to have had that time before heading into the Paralympic Village.
When we landed in Rio I could feel the electricity in the air, there had been so much anticipation, planning, blood, sweat and tears to get to this moment. Before I was even out of the plane I felt like I had accomplished a massive goal and felt proud to be part of the Australian team. The Australian Paralympic Committee staff had an incredible set up in our building with every support service we needed. One of the highlights for me was the atmosphere within our team, it was an incredibly positive, friendly, focused, supportive and fun environment for us all to prepare and compete in. The next highlight was the opening ceremony, this is when it all begins. There are no words that can describe the feeling of walking out in in front of tens of thousands of people in the Australian uniform, following the flag, with teammates all around. I knew my family was in the crowd and I knew more family and friends were watching at home which made it even more special. When it came to game day I felt ready and excited to compete.
The competition was fierce and all my opponents were on the top of their games. Me and my doubles partner, Ben Weekes lost the doubles in the first round. In the singles I had a bye first round, won my second round against Satoshi Saida 7-5 6-1 and lost in the round of 16 6-1 6-2 against world number 5, Gustavo Fernandez. In the end I was a bit disappointed with the results but changed my focus to enjoying the experience and supporting my teammates. I was incredibly grateful just to be there and play in front of family, as they have been there supporting me through everything. When I was out on the court I thought of everyone who had helped me throughout my career who believed in me and helped me to believe in myself; it made me cherish each moment. I know that I have one, maybe two more Paralympic games in me and I'm looking forward to continuing to challenge myself in training and in my endeavour to become the greatest version of myself.
I believe that anyone can overcome challenges and feel some purpose in life. Belief has been the driving force that enabled me to beat the cancer and it also enables me to build the life I want which includes being the best in the world on the tennis court.
Growing up in St. Ives on Sydney’s north, Adam Kellerman was a rowdy young boy with perfect health who loved tennis, swimming, running, skiing, ice hockey and soccer. After experiencing pain in his leg, it was discovered that he was affected by a form of bone cancer in his right hip called Ewings Sarcoma. Adam went through a series of chemo-therapy treatments as well as major surgery, he contracted an infection following the major surgery which needed another 19 unplanned surgeries as well as 2 years of IV antibiotics. He also fought off a serious case of depression over the whole time period. When Adam was introduced to wheelchair tennis in December 2006, he discovered a slice of happiness and found a space in which he could kickstart his life again. Adam competed in the 2016 Paralympics in Rio and his dream is to become World #1 for wheelchair tennis. Adam also delivers inspiring motivational talks on various topics derives from his life experience. Adam is sponsored by Goodman, EG Funds Management, Superfeast, Eclipse Organics and Head International. http://adamkellerman.com/