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The University of Alabama

Find Your Passion: Hoops and Rackets

By Margaret Bishop

A scholarship recipient for her basketball skills, it’s in tennis where Soldan will compete in the August Paralympics in London. (Samantha Hernandez)

A scholarship recipient for her basketball skills, it’s in tennis where Soldan will compete in the August Paralympics in London. (Samantha Hernandez)

When Mackenzie Soldan arrived at The University of Alabama in fall 2010, she thought her wheelchair tennis career was a thing of the past; in reality, it had only just begun.

Soldan, a sophomore from Louisville, Ky., majoring in advertising, accepted a scholarship with UA’s Women’s Wheelchair Basketball Team during her senior year of high school. Although Soldan previously participated in wheelchair track and wheelchair tennis and basketball, she planned on focusing solely on the latter.

Her game plan quickly changed when she was offered an opportunity to compete in the Para-Pan Olympic Games in Guadalajara, Mexico. Originally an alternate, Soldan was contacted at the last minute to participate in the prestigious event.

“I didn’t practice until the week before,” says Soldan. “I hit the (tennis) ball against the wall at UA’s Student Recreation Center two days in a row. That was it — that was my training.”

Originally selected as an alternate for the Para-Pan Olympics, Soldan learned last-minute she would compete. She won two gold medals. (Samantha Hernandez)

Originally selected as an alternate for the Para-Pan Olympics, Soldan learned last-minute she would compete. She won two gold medals. (Samantha Hernandez)

Although some may consider this “training” to be ill-fitted for a competition as large as the Para-Pan Olympics, Soldan’s approach ended up being worthy of gold. Soldan earned the gold medal in both the single and double wheelchair tennis categories at the 2011 Para-Pan Olympic Games. To her surprise, Soldan learned that not only did she win the games, but she also won a bid to compete in the August Paralympics in London, part of the 2012 Summer Olympics program.

“I’ll train (in tennis) for the Paralympics all summer, and I plan on competing in some tournaments in Europe once I get there,” says Soldan.

Although Soldan is an accomplished athlete in both wheelchair basketball and wheelchair tennis, there are different aspects of each sport that keep her intrigued.

“I like the team aspect of basketball,” says Soldan. “Having support and having people to travel with is great. I’ve always loved the game as long as I can remember. With tennis, though, I like the individuality of it. I like that I can win by myself, but it’s also no fun losing by myself!”

Soldan attributes her success to her teammates and coaches, and appreciates the opportunities UA has provided.

“Our wheelchair basketball team is probably the best team in the world,” says Soldan. “I’m really blessed to have all the talents and opportunities that I’ve been given. It’s really awesome.”

Soldan, an advertising major, chose her academic focus, in part, because she wants to promote wheelchair sports. (Samantha Hernandez)

Soldan, an advertising major, chose her academic focus, in part, because she wants to promote wheelchair sports. (Samantha Hernandez)

Soldan says she chose advertising as her major because she enjoys it, but wheelchair athletics also played a role in the decision.

“I chose to major in advertising because I really have always enjoyed art and the whole creative process,” says Soldan. “I also want to promote wheelchair sports and the Paralympics, because I feel like many people don’t know it’s there.”

Soldan, a sophomore, says she expects her positive experiences at UA to only improve over the next few years.

“I’m really enjoying my time at UA. The campus is beautiful, the school is great, and the football is awesome. I wouldn’t have been as happy anywhere else!”

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Margaret Bishop is a senior from Lewisburg, Tenn., double majoring in public relations and communication studies. She is serving as a student writer for UA Media Relations during the spring 2012 semester.

This story is part of the Find Your Passion series. To learn more about how you can find your passion at The University of Alabama, please visit UA Undergraduate Admissions.

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