After badly bruising his stump just six days out from a national New Zealand tournament, one-armed tennis player Alex Hunt was facing the prospect of sitting on the sidelines.
The injury, the result of a recent fall, made it too painful for the Nelson-born athlete to wear his usual prosthetic arm.
“I thought I might have to pull out.”
However, the incident has proven to be a blessing in disguise.
Alex’s condition was caused at birth after his umbilical cord wrapped around his arm, stunting its growth. Since he was two he has worn a prosthetic, and used it to play tennis as he rose through the ranks.
But a day after his accident, Alex was invited to join in a game.
“I didn’t have my arm to serve but they suggested I just sort of pop it up from my stump,” he says.
Alex, who lives in Nelson but travels the world for tennis, says it went so well that he decided to train this way for the next five days.
He then debuted his new technique at the tournament.
“It was very nerve-wracking walking up to serve for the first time with my arm off.”
While the results didn’t go his way, the 25-year-old gained a new sense of freedom on the court.
“I didn’t do too well, I actually served ok, but the rest of my game was just not there, but I wasn’t expecting too much.”
Having gained the confidence of performing on a national stage, Alex has now adopted the new serving style and will continue to play without his prosthetic arm.
“It feels much freer, it means I can fully extend and really open up on the backhand, there isn’t the feeling of something hanging off you that’s not part of you.”
With no coaching manual for Alex’s unique serve, there is a lot of trial and error going into perfecting it.
“I put a wristband on with a little hole just to help grip the ball a little better, then I just pop it off the forearm.”
He says he can’t believe he didn’t try it earlier.
“It just didn’t cross my mind that it would be better without it.”
While playing without a prosthetic is better for his game, it does attract attention.
“It makes it more noticeable, which can be hard because I don’t like to stand out, but at the same time, if it can get my story out there and inspire some kids in a similar situation, that’s fine with me.”
Alex says a number of parents of children with birth defects have reached out to him for advice.
“I am getting so many cool messages from families who tell me it has opened their eyes and they realized their kids can still live great lives.”
Alex is back in Nelson for a training block as he works on his new technique with coach John Gardiner and local Paralympic specialist Claire Dallison.
He says his handicap has never held him back and he always had fun with it.
“I would sit in class and try and make my arm fart.”
Alex was schooled at Wakefield Primary, Waimea Intermediate and Nelson College. Growing up on a farm in Wakefield, Alex says the lifestyle taught him early on that he could do anything.
“I always tried to keep up with my brothers whether it was riding motorbikes or playing sport, I was always charging behind.”
When picking his brothers up from training, Alex would jump on court, so it was a natural progression for him. While also a star footballer, basketballer and rugby player, Alex chose the tennis path at 14.
“I had to make a decision and so I chose tennis because I couldn’t imagine my life without it.”
On Sunday, the Richmond Tennis Club, where he was a junior member hosted an afternoon for its young players to meet Alex.