Smashing barriers on the spectrum
Four years ago, Beenleigh-based Hunter Thompson was failing every subject at school and struggling to attend class.
Now 19, Hunter tinkers with his car, plays Fortnite – and represents Australia on the world stage.
He has recently returned from the Virtus Global Games in Paris where he was surprised and humbled to win gold in the newly introduced category for tennis players with autism.
Hunter was also named the 2022 Elite Athlete with a Disability at the City of Logan Sports Awards last year. Nominations for the 2023 Sports Awards are now open.
His mother and coach, AJ Thompson of Beenleigh’s FuturePros Tennis Academy, says his recent successes have been years in the making.
‘He deserves it because as a junior, he participated through mainstream channels and it was incredibly difficult,’ she says.
‘It’s a very warm and fuzzy feeling for him to be recognised and he’s very quietly proud.
‘It’s also great because it’s opening doors for him and other elite athletes on the spectrum.’
Hunter, who first picked up a tennis racquet at the age of one, has overcome numerous challenges as a neurodivergent athlete.
Before he was diagnosed with autism at 16, his biggest challenge was related to black and white thinking while on court.
‘Things are either right and wrong and if someone on the spectrum feels a sense of injustice, the world starts spinning out of control,’ AJ says.
‘As a child, he’d end up crying in the middle of a match or just throw the game because he couldn’t move on from an incorrect referee call.’
Like many others on the spectrum, Hunter also has sensory sensitivities and can get overwhelmed while playing on sand or clay courts.
Despite these challenges, Hunter has served and sliced his way into the upper echelons of Australian tennis, training with the likes of Christos Kyrgios, brother of Australian tennis star Nick Kyrgios.
This was in no small part due to his parents’ efforts to make tennis more inclusive.
AJ and her husband Kyle have worked closely with Tennis Queensland and Tennis Australia to ensure tournaments cater for athletes with disabilities by providing sensory rooms and umpires.
The duo, along with Hunter, now coach 40 tennis players on the spectrum at their Beenleigh academy.
‘Hunter is a beautiful advocate for tennis and autism and is proof that the elite level is attainable, regardless of skill or disability,’ AJ says.
‘He’s also become more confident – the Hunter you see on the tennis court is totally different, joking around and leading his teammates.
‘On the court, he’s less protective and truly expresses himself. Tennis has given him that confidence – that he’s good at something and that he’s okay – and it’s really wonderful seeing other kids feel the same way.’
Hunter is now resuming his rigorous 6-day training schedule and has been invited to compete on the international circuit.
Get the latest updates on the FuturePros Tennis Academy Facebook page.