“Without this accident, I would never have been able to dream of participating in the Games,” confides Sandrine Cauderon

“This chance is small but it exists.” At 44, Sandrine Cauderon-Paulin has set herself a goal: to qualify for the Paris 2024 Paralympic Games. Currently ranked 6th French wheelchair tennis player and 42nd in the world, this mother measures the step that remains to be taken: “Join the Top 30 in the world and be among the four best French players before mid-July,” she summarizes.

From the back of the courts, at the foot of Groupama Stadium in Lyon, the sportswoman connects powerful forehands and backhands. Return each ball without losing rhythm. Gain speed. Train daily to grab places in the international rankings. This involves “three hours of tennis every day and as much time devoted to physical preparation at home”. Without forgetting the treatments, such as physiotherapy or osteopathy sessions, and carefully selected tournaments. “I have to progress. I’m starting out a bit late, as I only started playing full-time 18 months ago. »

Victim of an accident in 2007

Sandrine knows the world of tennis well, having practiced it since the age of 3. But in 2007, his life changed during a horseback ride. The animal rears up at a gallop. “I had a very violent fall. One of my vertebrae exploded in my spinal cord. I was 28 years old, I spent two weeks in intensive care,” she says. The verdict is then final: “I was told that I had become paraplegic”.

Sent to a rehabilitation center for eight months, the young woman fights to regain maximum mobility. “I came out standing with a walker,” she emphasizes. Today, the “after-effects” are still there. His feet “don’t work anymore.” The athlete must rely on splints and crutches to move around.

The turning point came on the eve of her 40th birthday, in 2018. “My children played a lot of sport and I missed it a lot,” remembers Sandrine. One day, I saw this poster offering wheelchair tennis lessons. Being a walker, I didn’t think I could qualify for it. » But the trial lesson transformed her: “As soon as I hit the ball, it was magical. The smells, the sounds of the tennis court… Everything came back to me. It was like fireworks.” Everyone around him encourages him to return to service.

Sponsored by his employer

However, you have to “start from scratch” or almost. “It’s like discovering another sport,” she sums up. The movements, the logic, everything is different. The hardest thing at first was learning how to use the chair. » Rotate it while keeping the racket in hand. Roll fast enough to cut the trajectory of the ball. Which requires a lot of strength.

But the young woman learns quickly. His rise has been meteoric. A year later, the mother won her first tournament and, at the end of the year, climbed among the ten best French players, while continuing her career as a recruitment consultant within the Randstad group.

“I was incredibly lucky that my employer offered to help me and sponsor me at the beginning of 2021,” she explains. This allowed me to test myself in international tournaments, which I had never done before. » His management begins by granting him part-time to pursue his passion head on. Then, “totally detach her from her missions” in September 2022 so that she can fully concentrate on the Games. At home, her “husband takes over”. His children encourage him to achieve his goal.

OUR 2024 Olympics FILE

“We will really have put everything in place so as not to have any regrets at the end,” analyzes Sandrine Cauderon-Paulin, who “would dream of wearing the French team’s tracksuit.” Today, if history “had to be remade”, the sportswoman would “change nothing”, she assures us. “Without this accident, I would never have met my husband. I could never have played tennis at such a level, nor had this chance to aim for the Games,” she concludes, radiant.

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