The 53-year-old US Open ballboy with one leg
Azarenka walked up to me and said: ‘I had to come over here and tell you: ‘You are a trooper.’ She shook my hand
When Todd Reed lost his right foot after treading on a landmine while serving in Iraq 23 years ago the thought of a sporting future might have been one of the things furthest from his mind
Today, however, the 53-year-old retired serviceman plays baseball, softball and even American football. During the current fortnight he has been playing his part in the US Open. Reed, who has a prosthetic leg, might seem the most unlikely of ballboys, but he is one of four retired military or police personnel who have been working alongside the youngsters on duty at Flushing Meadows.
It was three years ago that the United States Tennis Association (USTA) started inviting former military and police officers to act as ball persons at their flagship event. They are recruited via the USTA Foundation, which aims to bring tennis and education together.
As part of its work the Foundation supports military heroes and individuals with disabilities. The “military heroes” programme helps reintegrate former military personnel and their families into the community. Reed, who comes from North Carolina, has been joined at Flushing Meadows by Christopher Bustamante, who is a retired military officer, and two retired police officers, Arthur Leinbach and Kevin Kisch.
(Above image from left to right: Christopher Bustamante, Todd Reed, Kevin Kisch, Arthur Leinbach).
It was in April 1991 that Reed’s life changed when he lost his foot while serving in Northern Iraq. He spent six weeks in hospital and was forced to retire from the military as a result of his injury. He then joined the police department in Arizona, where he served for 21 years. He retired recently.
“I have always been very athletic and I enjoy all sports,” he said “I have been a tennis fan for 30 years and it has been an absolutely amazing experience to be here. On Friday I got to work the Grandstand, when Victoria Azarenka was playing. When she was serving she would only take the balls from my corner.
"After the match, she was in the middle of the court doing an interview. At the end of the interview four of us were in one of the back corners until the players leave. She finished the interview and we made eye contact. She started walking towards us, walked up to me and said: ‘I had to come over here and tell you: ‘You are a trooper.’ She shook my hand. So that was great.”
Reed was a ballboy during Sam Groth’s first round match against Albert Ramos-Vinolas and then the Australian’s doubles against Jonathan Marray and Gilles Muller. “During the singles match Groth kept sweating and he wanted the towel after every point,” Reed said. “Even when he was not looking I went to get the towel. “One time he had his back to me, but I grabbed the towel and started running towards him. When he turned around, I was already there and he goes: ‘Thanks mate!’ He thanked me every time I handed him the towel.”
There have, however, been moments when things have not gone to plan. “A few times, when ball should have been down our end, I threw them to the other end and they threw them back,” Reed explained. “And once in a while you go to grab the ball and you miss it.
“The experience has been just incredible, amazing. It’s been so much fun, interacting with the kids. When we have our meetings, a lot of the kids have asked me about my military career, how I lost my foot. Some of them have asked me about my police career. They have been very warm. It’s fun to hang out with them and to think a 53-year-old guy would be a ball person, hanging out with kids in their teens and 20s and 30s.”
Reed sees similarities between his time in the military and the police and his time as a ballboy. “When you are out on the court, there has to be a lot of communication and it is all non-verbal,” he said. “It’s similar to some of the things I did as far as working with my squad. If you don't have the communication you are not going to accomplish the mission.”
Today is Labor Day in the United States. It is also Military Day at the US Open, when the tennis world will pay tribute to American servicemen and women. When Reed finishes his duties this week he will go home briefly before heading to San Antonio to play a game with the Wounded Warriors amputee American football team. Two days later he will travel to Wisconsin to play with the Wounded Warriors amputee softball team. He has played with the softball team for more than three years.
“We travel all over the country,” Reed said. “And we are going to Japan in October for a disabled baseball tournament.” Reed is philosophical about his injury, “I’ve been blessed in so many ways and my life has been enriched since my accident,” he said.