When it's good, we measure success out of 10. When it's exceptional, we turn the dial to 11.
Yuka Chokyu, a wheelchair tennis athlete from Kerrisdale, knows all about 11.
The two-time Paralympian won her 11th Canadian wheelchair tennis championship Saturday in Brossard, Quebec, concluding the round-robin tournament with a decisive 6-0, 6-0 victory over a younger opponent from Burnaby.
"It's special - always a nation title is a different feeling from winning the [International Tennis Federation] events. It's like competing for national pride and honour," said Chokyu, who turns 46 in December.
Her remarkable string of championships was interrupted in 2006, the last year Tennis Canada held a national wheelchair tennis championship for women. The numbers of players dwindled and although Chokyu competed at the 2004 Athens and 2008 Beijing Summer Games, her sport did not draw many new competitors in Canada.
"In 2006, we had four players in women's division and one by one they stopped competing because of family commitments, work or injury. I was a little disappointed that [nationals] didn't happen for the last five years," said Chokyu, who was the first Canadian wheelchair tennis player to reach the top 10 in the world. In 1998 she hit her highest mark at 6th in singles and is currently ranked 27th.
Because of her unparalleled success - she has twice been named the female athlete of the year by both Tennis Canada (for a wheelchair athlete) and the Canadian Wheelchair Sports Association - Chokyu accepts the responsibility of growing the women's game in Canada. She aspires to coach and intends to start her certification training.
"I though about that kind of role myself," she said. "I'm not big, I'm very small, I'm Japanese, so everybody thinks if maybe this little lady can play then why not_ Maybe that way I encourage more people."
The women's division at the Canadian championships consisted entirely of B.C. athletes, prompting Gail Hamamoto, the executive director of B.C. Wheelchair Sports to say in a statement, "Wheelchair tennis is growing by leaps and bounds in B.C. [This] is proof of the hard work of B.C. provincial coach Steve Manley is doing to recruit and retain new talent."
Living in Vancouver as an English language student visiting from Japan in the 1980s, Chokyu was in a car accident and, at 23, became a paraplegic. A friend introduced her to tennis and she remembers chasing balls at the public courts at Dunbar for an entire month before she found her rhythm and much more.
At first, she used her everyday wheelchair, which had a wheel camber of four degrees and couldn't turn or pivot quickly enough for her to chase down any shots. The chair she uses for competition today has a camber of 20.
"In about a month, I started to contact the ball with the racket," she said. "Right away I fell in love with that, after one month."