Van Emburgh Solely Focused on Making 2020 Paralympics

By Richard Finn | May 08, 2019, 1:08 a.m. (ET)


If Jenson Van Emburgh took life sitting down you could understand why.

He suffered a life changing traumatic injury at birth, leaving him with a Level T-1 spinal cord injury that left him paralyzed from the chest down. He lives today with 33 screws and two metal rods in his spine.

But, the 19-year-old Floridian also lives today with a burning desire in his heart to represent the USA in the 2020 Paralympics and to be the best table tennis player he can be.

“I am currently training full time with my coach Gary Fraiman,” said Van Emburgh. “Also traveling to the Slovenia for a tournament in May. Then traveling to Slovakia to train with the national team in June! I am very excited and really think I will be able to make this goal come true.”

Currently he has reached an impressive No. 19 in the Class 3 Para-wheelchair world rankings with recent wins over some of the best para players in his class in both Italy and Spain, where he picked up a good medal haul, including gold in the team event. He has been a member of the USA Junior Para National Team for five consecutive years and has continued his success as a member of the senior team.

You could say that
 Van Emburgh was born to be a world -class athlete.

“I think my very competitive attitude just comes naturally from my family,” said Van Emburgh.

“My father was very competitive when he played tennis on the professional tennis tour,” Van Emburgh said of his father Greg, who reached the Wimbledon doubles semifinals in 1990 and has in his college coaching career been at the University of Wisconsin and now at Florida Southern.

“My (older) brother (Jake) plays college tennis and is also very competitive. I think it is very important to have a very competitive attitude because if you don’t have this you won’t win those close matches and get you through tough matches,” explained Van Emburgh.

Growing up in such athletic and competitive surroundings Jenson has turned his family's successes into a positive motivating force in his life according to his mother Tracey from an interview several years ago, he uses that as strength against his many challenges.

“We’ve talked about how cool it would have been if Jenson and his brother could have been doubles partners,” she said. “Our whole family grieves for that, for what could have been if they both played tennis.

“But in a way, maybe it’s a blessing in disguise. He found something really special that’s going to take him around the world. With every tough situation, out comes something really good.”

Van Emburgh has a trophy case of victories and titles already to his name. He won the singles gold medal at the 2016 US Nationals Class 3-5 tournament and the bronze medal that same year in the Class 3 US Para Open. But, there is so much more that he can improve on as a player he said.

“I think my game has improved because I am still evolving as a player. I am so young and there is so much to learn in this fantastic sport. I am also analyzing what my weaknesses are and working on those and really just trying to be very good all around,” he said.

“You can always improve on something. Even the top players they can always improve on something. For me I think I can still improve my forehand and overall make myself stronger. “

There is one part of Jenson Van Emburgh’s game that we already know is as strong as anybody’s – his heart.