A kidney failure almost ended his life — but not his love for it

June 9 2016

Taneli Tenhunen has had a spinal cord injury from birth, and reveals my own prejudice towards those who use a wheelchair. Taneli can’t fly either, but close enough.

He made it to the Paralympics in Beijing and now he is planning his comeback in the tennis court. Next stop Tokyo, 2020!

You can’t fly, right? But probably you don’t think about that much? I can’t walk and I don’t think about that much…


Taneli’s parents used to say that his favorite toy as a kid was a ball. Always a ball. This interest became a hobby, and later a career.

If you ask me about the single most important thing in my life, I would say sports. Of course I value family and friends, but sports is my life. It has always been, Taneli says.

He thinks that the injury has brought more positive than negative things to his life, and that it doesn't slow him down. As a kid though, it could be embarrasing sometimes that ha needed to use a catheter to be able to pee, but now catheterization is a part of his life, just as using a wheelchair.

Taneli tried icehockey, floorball, and other sports, but as a teenager he found his passion in tennis.

Taneli played tennis professionally for almost 10 years before a kidney failure ended his career—and almost his life—in 2011. After a couple of weeks in the hospital, he started dialysis waiting for a suitable kidney. The illness changed his life, but not only in a bad way.

It doesn’t help if you continue living your life in the past. Everything will be better if you focus on the future. If you try to be open-minded you will see new opportunities.

In Taneli’s case he started coaching instead. When his fellow patients in the dialysis unit went home to sleep for a couple of hours after the hospital visit, he went to the tennis court.

It kept me sane and in good shape, Taneli says with a smile.

It took three years before the revealing phone call came—the doctors had found a matching kidney, and today he is playing tennis again, going for the Paralympics 2020. But he is still making his living as a coach.

I will do my best to get in shape for the professional tennis tour and Paralympics, but to be honest, I have won my life back already and I don’t need to prove anything to anyone. If I don’t make it, my life is really great as it is right now.


Taneli is coaching about 50 (non-disabled) people, both kids and adults. His mornings start at the gym and after a short lunch he spends his afternoons in the tennis club, coaching or doing the administrative work the role requires. Sometimes he is lecturing in schools, sports clubs or companies, trying to encourage people to follow their heart.

If you do what you enjoy, the good results will come automatically, he says.

Soon the club will prepare for the outdoor season which will generate a lot of work, and when I ask Taneli what he will do for his short summer vacation, his answer doesn’t include beach or travel.

I think I will play some tennis…

To read more inspiring stories about people with spinal cord injury, catheterization and sports, click the button:

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Topics: Sports and leisure, Spinal Cord Injury (SCI)