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Meet Kaitlyn Verfuerth! Kaitlyn is a first-time member of Team USA and a two-time Paralympian who competed in Athens in 2004 and Beijing in 2008 on the USA Tennis Team. Read about her experiences in both sports and her transition to basketball below.
Name: Kaitlyn Verfuerth
Hometown: Flagstaff, Arizona
Current team (other than USA): The Phoenix Mercury (Women) and Division III Phoenix Suns (Men)
How many years have you been playing?
KV: I have been playing for about 3 ½ years at a professional level and played junior ball for 5 years.
You have been to the Paralympics in Athens and Beijing as a tennis player. What were your experiences like?
KV: Both places were extremely amazing. Going to Athens was my first-ever Paralympic experience. I was only 17 and was just so excited to have made the team. I was on the team with women whom I looked up to as a young tennis player and I was in shock when I got the chance to play with them. It was all pretty overwhelming but a huge honor. Beijing was like a whole new ball game. I knew what to expect and I wanted a medal – I ended up just shy of a bronze. In Beijing, I played my first round on stadium court in front of 8,000 people. That was the most people I have ever played in front of – it was nerve-rackingingly awesome!
How did you transition from tennis to basketball? What are the biggest differences between the sports?
KV: During slow times in tennis, I cross-trained with basketball. After playing more and more basketball, I started to think about trying out for Team USA. I was extremely excited when I got invited to try out, it really caught me off guard.
With tennis, there is no team—nobody you can call on for help and nobody to pump you up when you’re feeling down. It’s all on you. Coming from tennis, which is so individual, it was difficult for me to start trusting my basketball teammates on the court. I am so used to doing it all in tennis and being the only one on the court. If I mess up, I’m not letting anyone else down, so feeling like you let your team down in basketball can be a lot of pressure. However, if and when I do mess up, it is really reassuring to know I have four other girls out there to back me up. I’ve found with basketball, finding simplicity and doing the small details correctly are really important.
I also struggle with the difference in timing between tennis and basketball. In tennis, you have 20 seconds in between points to re-group, re-focus and take some time. In basketball, you have very little time to reset and the pace of the game is constant. For me, having to always be focused and “on” has been an adjustment.
You have represented Team USA in wheelchair tennis and basketball -- what is it like playing for your country?
KV: I get goosebumps every time I put on any Team USA shirt – regardless if I am going into competition or not. Words will never be able to describe that feeling of rolling into the stadium during opening ceremonies with thousands of people chanting “USA!” All of the hard work, sacrifices, blood, sweat and tears that lead up to that moment are worth it.
What person in your life inspires you the most? Any role models or mentors?
KV: Randy Snow was my biggest role model. He was a paralympian in 3 sports: basketball, tennis and racing. When I first got hurt, someone gave me a poster of Randy and it had some sort of slogan like: “3 different sports, 3 different medals.” I eventually met him at my first wheelchair tennis tournament and was absolutely star struck. Since then, Randy has taught me so much—not just about tennis but about life—life in a wheelchair. A month after Randy asked me to go to Texas to train with him, he passed away. He is greatly missed by so many and touched so many lives. I love you Randy, and God Bless.
Question from Men’s Team USA member, Brian Bell: What is your favorite song to listen to before a game?
KV: “I Love It” by Icona Pop
Pose a question for our next member of Team USA:
KV: What is it about you that makes you a champion?