Kirstie Marx started working with athletes with intellectual disabilities 15 years ago. After two and a half decades, she has helped build this community in North Carolina into a thriving population of tennis players, and plenty of others have taken notice.
Marx received the Educational Merit Award by the International Tennis Hall of Fame at the USTA Annual Meeting & Conference in April. The award is given annually to someone who has made notable contributions in the tennis education field at the national level and has demonstrated leadership and creative skills along the way.
“I was shocked. Anything with the Tennis Hall of Fame, that’s the biggest honor you can ever receive,” Marx said. “To know that they recognize something like the work I’ve done with Abilities Tennis was incredible. They’re recognizing people with special needs, that they do matter.”
Abilities Tennis is the nonprofit organization Marx helped co-found in 2007. The organization’s goal is to provide tennis opportunities to as many athletes with intellectual disabilities as possible in North Carolina. They host several tournaments and offer clinics at 15 sites across the state year-round, all which are offered for free.
Today Marx runs clinics for Abilities Tennis and also serves as the director of sports development for Special Olympics North Carolina. You’re probably wondering what jumpstarted her passion for assisting the intellectually disable community. Marx said it only took one student to change her life 15 years ago.
“I had a student named Theara Sanders who came out for a tennis lesson. I had never taught someone with special needs. Her mom said there weren’t a lot of coaches for the athletes. I got involved with Special Olympics and started growing the programming across the state,” Marx said. “Because of that one student, I saw the void. There were no pros involved. I feel like I’ve been given a special gift. This is my ministry, this is my life. This is what I’m passionate about.”
Marx is part of the Special Olympics national committee. Her work has clearly impacted a wide range of athletes and tennis professionals, but she’ll never stop trying to achieve more.
“I want people who are not in the tennis industry to realize that tennis is a sport for everyone. We have it as a sport for the lowest functioning athletes to the highest ones. We want to grow those programs,” Marx said.
There’s another challenge ahead for Marx with her own tennis game. Last year she underwent elbow surgery. She’s no longer able to play with her right arm. Her only option is to become a southpaw, but that hasn’t discouraged her. From a 5.0 right-hander to the 2.5 level, she’s enduring an unorthodox renaissance. But with comments like “of course I’m going to keep playing,” it shows her desire to play is stronger than ever.
Marx teaches clinics in Cary and Abilities Tennis also offers them in Chapel Hill, Charlotte, Cornelius/Huntersville, Greensboro, Greene County, Raleigh and Wilmington. If you’d like to find out more about getting involved with Abilities Tennis, visit atanc.org.
Marx wins International Tennis Hall of Fame award