31 Jan 2017

The UNIQLO Interview: Monique Kalkman

News Article

By Sandra Harwitt

Photo: Rien HokkenMonique Kalkman-van den Bosch

No TitleIn the first of our new monthly UNIQLO Interviews featuring people making a significant contribution to the development of wheelchair tennis, Sandra Harwitt spoke to Monique Kalkman-van den Bosch, who will become the latest wheelchair tennis player to be inducted to the International Tennis Hall of Fame in July this year. 

When Monique Kalkman-van den Bosch was a child in the Netherlands sport was of prime importance in her life.

Just hearing the list of sports she pursued - hockey, tennis, water polo, sailing and horseback riding - could make anyone feel tired. By age 13, Kalkman determined she would never become a sports star if she spread her interests so thin, so she gave up all but tennis and hockey.

She was just about to start training with the Dutch Tennis Federation when tragedy struck - a 14-year-old Kalkman was diagnosed with Ewing Sarcoma. Surgery and chemotherapy treatment cured the cancer, but left her a paraplegic.

For Kalkman, even being so young, she didn’t have time to wallow in self-pity. She had a life to live and a goal of gold to attain.

Kalkman had a childhood dream of winning Olympic gold and cancer wasn’t going to get in the way of her realising that achievement. Unaware at the time that there was such a thing as wheelchair tennis, she pursued table tennis and won Paralympic gold in that sport in 1984.

Shortly thereafter Kalkman found out that her favourite sport from childhood was still available for her to play.

“I wasn’t aware of wheelchair tennis back then, although it had already started in the US,” Kalkman said. “At that time there was no connection through a global organisation so I started to play table tennis because I had seen that in school, and at the Paralympics.

“Then Brad (Parks) and Randy (Snow), and a few other guys came over to Europe to do tennis demonstrations and that’s how I got introduced to wheelchair tennis. They became my heroes.”

The only woman to win Paralympic gold in two different sports, Kalkman would go on to win three Paralympic gold medals in tennis during her career, and a couple of silver medals, too. Kalkman would also become a four-time ITF Wheelchair Tennis World Champion and two-time NEC Masters champion.

A dynamic personality, it is not surprising that Kalkman has gone on to take a role as an ITF Ambassador for wheelchair tennis. She knows how privileged she’s been to be a world-class athlete and wants to do what she can to bring that possibility to as many disabled people as she can.

“We create awareness through word of mouth and media - and social media - and I’m hoping the ITF will let us do even more and they will,” she said. “Without UNIQLO, BNP Paribas, NEC and the ITF itself, we wouldn’t be where we are now. This is really the part that I like and I appreciate. When we were playing in the beginning years it was a sport with a lot of potential, not only for the players but for tennis itself.

“It’s good to get the sport out there and that’s partially thanks to having the main sponsors,” she added. “It’s important that we have the right organisation in place and the ITF is the driver of that, having sponsors to make that possible, and having the media, and that creates better tennis.”

Kalkman will receive a special honour this year that undoubtedly will increase her visibility and ability to enhance the interest in wheelchair tennis. In July, Kalkman will be enshrined into the International Tennis Hall of Fame at Newport, Rhode Island.

During the Australian Open she travelled to Melbourne, where the official announcement of upcoming inductees was held. 

She admitted the Hall of Fame honour has brought out all kinds of feelings.

“What yesterday (the official announcement) did to me is it triggered a lot of emotions,” she said. “It’s always so easy to keep looking at the present and the goals going forward in your life. I sometimes don’t take the time to look back at what tennis has brought to me and that’s what the Hall of Fame is doing to me.”

As Kalkman discussed how thrilled she is to help grow the sport she loves and to be recognised for her achievements in tennis, one thing brought her to tears. She remembered the biggest present tennis brought to her life - her family. She met her husband Marc through the game - their relationship started as his being her coach. And in 2000, after thinking her cancer treatment would prevent her from having a child, she gave birth to a son.

“Tennis is how I first met my husband,” she said. “He will introduce me in Newport.”

Now in her 50s, Kalkman has moved on to pursue a new sport - golf - which suits her age and lifestyle more. She uses a specially designed chair that enables her to go into a standing position to hit the ball.

“I have a different goal now,” she said. “Tennis, for me, was all about being competitive. Golf is more of a mix of competition with social and health.”