Wheelchair tennis player David Wagner is ready to go for gold at the Rio de Janeiro Paralympics.
Make that two golds.
The 1993 Walla Walla High School graduate will compete in quad singles and doubles in Brazil. The wheelchair tennis competition is Sept. 9-16.
At 42, Wagner is one of the world’s most decorated tennis players, wheelchair or able-bodied. He and Nick Taylor enter the Paralympics as the three-time defending quad doubles champions.
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“Working hard, trusting each other and being supportive of each other is what’s made us so successful,” said Wagner, who became a quadriplegic in 1995 when he was injured in the surf off Redondo Beach in Southern California.
In quad singles, Wagner is seeking his first Paralympic gold medal. He claimed silver in 2004 and 2012, and bronze in 2008.
“A little bit of help from the draw is always good,” Wagner said of his chances of getting that elusive singles gold.
Wagner will be joined in Rio by wheelchair track athlete Chelsea McClammer, who grew up in Benton City, and para-dressage rider Roxanne Trunnell, formerly of Kennewick. McClammer, 22, will compete in her second Paralympics — she was 14 when she finished eighth in the 800 meters in 2008. Trunnell, 31, is a Paralympic newcomer.
Wagner has been on the medal stand at every Paralympics in which he has competed. He knows the ecstasy of winning for his country, as well as the heartache of coming up short.
It was especially hard at the 2008 Paralympics in Beijing, where, after losing in the quad singles semifinals, he ended up across the net from a familiar face in the third-place match.
“I had to play Nick for bronze,” Wagner said. “My doubles partner and friend is going for a medal too, and I’m playing to get that medal from him.”
Based on the rankings at the time of qualifications for the 2016 Paralympics, Wagner was No. 2 in the world in singles.
He expects he and Taylor will be the top-seeded team in the doubles draw, and that they will face tough competition for gold No. 4.
“I’m pretty much looking at every team,” Wagner said. “I don’t overlook anybody for singles or doubles. There’s a lot of teams out there that want what we have, and we want to keep what we have.”
Wagner is eager to see how Rio stacks up against past Paralympic cities Athens (2004), Beijing (’08) and London (’12). He admits he has thought about the safety issues that have been reported in Brazil.
“Obviously there’s a little bit of worry in the back of your mind, but you go there and you expect them to do their due diligence as the host nation, and I think they will,” he said.
Mostly, he’s thinking about what will happen on the court there.
“I’m excited to play some tennis and showcase what I’ve been training for these last couple of years,” said Wagner, a full-time resident athlete at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif.
When Wagner returns from Rio, he won’t get much time to rest.
In October, he will play in the USTA U.S. Open Wheelchair Championships in St. Louis. In November, he has the UNIQLO Wheelchair Doubles Masters in Mission Viejo, Calif., and the NEC Wheelchair Tennis Masters for singles in London.
After taking a couple of weeks off around the holidays, he’ll start getting ready for the Australian Open in January.
As for his long-term future in the sport, Wagner notes that Los Angeles is a candidate city to host the Summer Olympics and Paralympics in 2024, when he’ll be 50.
“It always does seem kind of nice to say you played in a home games in your country,” he said.