High Performance Competitions Debuted at 2018 USA Games; Team Virginia Tennis Player Leads the Way

By Jill Hammergren

July 20, 2018


Special Olympics Virginia tennis player, Jonathan Fried, 56 loves tennis and he really excels at it. Fried is a pioneer at Special Olympics. He's been competing for 40 years, but not only that, for many years, Fried and his family have pushed for Special Olympics to offer a high performance competition category. Fried finally saw that happen for the first time at the 2018 USA Games in Seattle. The category recognizes athletes who compete at the highest level of their sport.

At the USA Games, five sports offered high performance competitions: Athletics in 100M dash and shot put; Bowling in singles; Golf in level five; Swimming in the 100yd individual medley and 100yd freestyle; and Tennis in singles.  The gold medal winners in each sport qualified for potential advancement to the 2019 World Games in Abu Dhabi.

"Jon's genius is tennis," said David Luedeka, DPT, CSCS, Fried's Fitness Trainer, "He's a remarkable tennis player, and he continues to push himself to be better every day."

Fried has a day-to-day tennis coach, Jon Sarosiek and his high performance coach, Ron Manilla. Sarosiek had to develop a specialized training program for Fried, because he has Cortical Visual Impairment, which is a decreased visual response due to a neurological problem in the brain that affects vision. The eye structure is normal and while it takes a normal picture of an object, the brain is not able to properly process or integrate the image. 

"I developed a plan that breaks down the court in three different zones for Jon," said Sarosiek. "He has no peripheral vision, so he must move his whole head to connect the image to his eyes. Before each match we have to warm up his eyes by hitting shots at different heights."

Fried's mother said they pushed for the High Performance category in Special Olympics because they saw how much tennis meant to Jon and other similarly driven athletes.  "We noticed that Special Olympics didn't have the means to push athletes to higher levels, which meant that Jon and others didn't have the competition they needed," said Barbara Fried. "There are very few things in his life that he is passionate about and he works hard to get better and better."

She enlisted the help of Ron Manilla, International Master Professional Tennis teacher to create an annual tennis invitational that brings athletes with special needs to a tournament that includes the top talent from around the world. Manilla was Jon Fried's coach at the 2018 USA Games. "You can't tell these athletes what they have to do to get better, they have to see it," said Manilla. "We show them what it takes with fitness, training, and we expose them to the best competition, so they can go back home and do the hard work to be the best they can be."

The Frieds found an advocate in Rick Jeffrey, president of Special Olympics Virginia. He worked tirelessly from within the organization to pilot the High Performance category in other sports. "It's been extraordinary to see it unfold at the USA Games," said Jeffrey, "We want to get all athletes to play to their potential."

Fried earned a bronze medal in his competition at the 2018 USA Games.

 L to R: David Leudeka, Fried's personal trainer; Jon Sarosiek, Fried's coach; Barbara Fried, Fried's mother; Jonathan Fried, Team Virginia Tennis Athlete; Ron Manilla, Fried's performance coach; Rick Jeffrey, President, Special Olympics Virginia

L to R: David Leudeka, Fried's personal trainer; Jon Sarosiek, Fried's coach; Barbara Fried, Fried's mother; Jonathan Fried, Team Virginia Tennis Athlete; Ron Manilla, Fried's performance coach; Rick Jeffrey, President, Special Olympics Virginia