Rising star born with rare syndrome shines in local tennis program
Christina Stevens, CTV Vancouver Island
Published Friday, August 24, 2018 4:03PM PDT
Last Updated Friday, August 24, 2018 6:54PM PDT
A brief look of amusement flickers over Ethan Barwise's face as he swings his racquet with a perfect slice.
For the most part, the 13 year old’s face is all about serious concentration as he returns his coach’s volley.
Although it may look like Ethan was always meant to play tennis, his start in the game was more happenstance than anything.
"I wanted to try a sport that not many kids in my school did," he explained.
Ethan wanted to do something different, and he knew tennis would have different challenges for him than for other kids.
He was born with split hand-foot syndrome, meaning he has only pinky fingers on his hands and two toes on his feet.
But Ethan walked right out on the court with a swagger he wasn’t necessarily feeling inside.
"It was scary because I didn’t know anyone there. That’s how it usually is for me," he said.
His first coach, Jimmy Perry Costamagna admitted he was a little nervous at first too.
"Because I didn’t know what to expect and he didn’t know himself what to expect," said Perry Costamagna.
But they figured it out together, and Ethan flourished.
"By a lot of dedication and work he overcame his fears and I overcame my challenge as a coach," added Perry Costamagna.
Now Ethan has become a role model for the other kids and has even started coaching younger players.
The story behind the program which has allowed Ethan to shine is just as inspiring as he is.
The Society for Kids at Tennis, known as KATS, provides free tennis lessons, and even racquets if needed, to disadvantaged children.
It was started by retired physician Sy Silverberg, who said the program has evolved into something way beyond anything he had dreamed of.
"I thought we’d do a summer camp once a year and have 30, 50 kids. Well, the response from the community has just been so overwhelming, in four years we are close to 9000 kids that have participated in our classes. It’s just unbelievable," he said with a chuckle.
KATS does programs at courts all over Victoria and goes into schools during the school year as well.
Silverberg’s face lights up when talking about all the children who have picked up racquets for the first time, and who otherwise may never have had the opportunity to try tennis.
But Silverberg said seeing Ethan play brings him special joy.
It’s not just Ethan’s skill which impresses Silverberg, it is how Ethan has embraced becoming a role model.
"He is an example of what you can do with disabilities and I think he is pretty proud of being able to share that with other people," said Silverberg.
Ethan’s dad couldn’t agree more.
"I’m very proud of that, that’s a really neat thing," said Jim Barwise.
Ethan loves showing that being different doesn’t mean you can’t do something, but he is also eager to share what KATS has done for him. It has been a perfect match.
"It’s helped me learn to make better friends and get better at something I love."