Jenson Van Emburgh is a fighter. You can see it in his photos, pumping a fist in victory after a thrilling exchange of forehand and backhand drives. Since I last spoke with him nearly 4 months ago, Van Emburgh was fresh off clinching Bronze in the China Para Open and edging his way towards securing a spot in the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics.
Shortly after, he repeated his 2018 success with a Class 3-5 Gold finish at the 2019 US Para Open in Fort Worth, TX as well as being named Wheelchair Para Athlete of the year. The current WR 11, Van Emburgh commenced international training in Italy this January, further honing his game, and more recently in San Antonio, TX, even participating in an instructional video on how one serves to a wheelchair player.
However, with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, athletes must train at home, limiting their practice due to the communicable nature of the virus. In times like these, it is understandable that one would feel uncertainty, but, as I interviewed Van Emburgh before and after news that the Paralympics and Olympics had been postponed to 2021, I realized why he is an elite athlete with his reflective and resilient mindset.
He was already honest and forthright, confessing before Paralympic postponement, “[I] always have this coronavirus in the back of my mind…Worried about Paralympics continuing.” When I asked him, though, about what motivates him in these trying times, Van Emburgh replied, “I go on my computer and just look at the ranking list and see what I have achieved.”
His milestones, his titles, his accomplishments, all these boosts his outlook for the future. He also cultivates an optimistic attitude by realizing these worldwide issues are not permanent and will be resolved sooner or later.
Subsequently, when I asked him his thoughts on the news of pushing back the Paralympics to 2021, his answer maintained consistent with his perseverance, “It’s the correct decision,” he remarked. “[F]or sure everybody is disappointed that this has happened but it is for the best for everybody. Us athletes will now have more time to prepare and be at our best come 2021! I’m looking forward to 2021 and all of this passes over[.]” Even in a globally acknowledged low moment, Van Emburgh has found a silver lining.
Furthermore, Van Emburgh said he has kept in touch with fellow athletes from around the globe, to boost each other’s morale while practice time has come to a halt.
“I think it’s good to keep in contact with other players from the same or different disability classes to create friendships and bonds. And also be able to travel to their country and train with them”, he observed. Van Emburgh is especially close with Irish player Colin Judge, and he more recently befriended Matteo Orsi, an Italian Class 3 player.
Para-athlete star Van Emburgh is setting a great example by exuding a cautious but well-earned optimism, as well as forging international friendships when the world needs them the most. We’ll be rooting for you Jenson when Tokyo 2021 arrives!