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Wheelchair Tennis

In the course of seventy two hours, Mark Chilutti played five games of championship level tennis and hardly broke a sweat.

He credits his physical condition.

"People with severed spinal cords don't sweat below their injury," said Chilutti, 38, of Northeast Philadelphia who placed third in the B Division of the 15th Annual Philadelphia Wheelchair Tennis Tournament this weekend at the Cherry Hill Health and Racquet Club. "My injury is at chest level, so the majority of my body doesn't sweat. I wish it was because I was just in that good of shape."

One of four members of the Magee Freedoms - a wheelchair tennis team sponsored by the Magee Rehabilitation Hospital in Philadelphia - Chilutti has been a competitor all his life, even before a robber walked into his Northeast Philadelphia jewelry store in 1996, put a bullet in his chest, and left him paralyzed from the chest down.

"I played tennis before my injury, and I'm glad there's an opportunity now not just to play, but to compete...to work hard to be number one and to win," said Chilutti after his last match Sunday afternoon. "Like anybody, we just want to be the best. Being in a wheelchair doesn't change that. The only difference between wheelchair tennis and regular tennis is that we get two bounces."

And thanks to the sponsors, Magee Rehabilitation Hospital - which has been providing physical and cognitive rehabilitation to patients for the last fifty years, including to Chiluttii - Advanta, and the Philadelphia Department of Recreation's Carousel House, the opportunities for disabled athletes to exercise and push themselves to their physical limits exist.

However, there aren't nearly enough outlets.

"Events like this are wonderful," said Tournament Director Carl George, who also oversees Carousel House, a facility in Fairmount Park that provides recreational activities for people with disabilities including children and seniors. "But there just aren't enough opportunities in the country, never mind the Philadelphia area. We're working on it, but equipment like the specialized chairs that the tennis players use is expensive ($2,500). Thankfully, we do get help. The Cherry Hill Health and Racquet Club donates the court time for the tournament each year and for matches every week."

"It's critical for people with disabilities to have opportunities to exercise," said Chilutti. "Not only for the competition, but to allow us to stay in physical shape, which is even more important since our bodies don't function the way they should, and can break down easier than an able-bodied person's."

Magee Rehabilitation Hospital, founded in 1958, is a 96-bed specialty medical rehabilitation hospital providing physical and cognitive rehabilitation services. Magee’s flagship facility is located in Center City Philadelphia. In addition to the main campus that offers comprehensive services for spinal cord injury, brain injury, stroke, orthopedic replacement, amputation, pain management and work injury, Magee provides an expanding out-patient network serving the surrounding communities. In 1985, Magee’s brain injury rehabilitation program became the first in the nation to be accredited by the Commission on the Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities. Magee partnered with Jefferson Hospital to create one of the nation’s 14 federally designated centers for spinal cord injury rehabilitation. Magee has been rated one of America’s leading rehabilitation hospitals by U.S. News&World Report. Magee provides treatment to more than 5,000 individuals annually. Magee is authorized to treat wounded military personnel returning from war. Magee is not an Obligated Group Affiliate.

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