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What is a disability? What does it truly mean to be disabled? By definition, a disability is a condition that limits one’s ability to perform activities—but should being disabled really be a restriction on one’s life?
When I was eighteen months old, I was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. At age four, I was finally old enough to understand my disability and could see how I differed from my peers. Until then, I had assumed that it was common for children to wear leg braces and orthotics to help them walk, just like people wear eyeglasses to help them see. Rather than letting discouragement hold me back, I drew inspiration from cerebral palsy to overcome any obstacles and to defy my disability. Receiving physical and occupational therapy three times per week for the majority of my childhood has significantly improved my condition and has allowed me to pursue my dreams.
Since I was a young child, I have always had a strong passion for tennis. I was eight years old the first time I ever picked up a tennis racket. My ten-year-old twin brothers had embarked on their tennis careers a few years earlier than I and were already able to maintain a decent rally. Because of my cerebral palsy, I had never really considered giving tennis a try and was convinced that my limitations would hold me back. Then, one day, I went with my mom to watch my brothers hit with each other at our neighborhood’s courts. After a while, when one of my brothers fatigued and needed a rest, my mom suggested that I step in and see what I could do. After anxiously making my way onto the court, I surprised everyone by immediately hitting legitimate shots over the net. My mom was particularly stunned and could not believe that I hadn’t had any previous experience with the sport. Had I not built up the confidence to break down boundaries and overcome fears on that day, I would have undoubtedly not progressed to the point at which I stand today.
That next year, I took tennis lessons and was determined to improve my game. Like most other physical activities, I wasn’t able to perform in the exact same manner as the majority, and accommodations suited for my personal abilities were needed. For example, my grip on the racket differed from that of others, and I tossed the ball using only two fingers. I maintained the mindset that it didn’t matter how I did something, as long as it worked for me and gave me the best chance to achieve my goal. Even though I played differently, I believed that others’ prejudices shouldn’t prevent me from pursuing my dream.
Seventh grade was the first year that I tried out for my middle school’s tennis team. The team consisted of 18 seventh and eighth graders, giving the older and more experienced eighth graders an advantage during tryouts. After two weeks of battling against intense competition, I was disappointed to find out that I had been the nineteenth name on the list, missing the spot by only one person. This loss inspired me to work harder the following year and made me determined to finally reach my goal. I began my tennis training in September of the next year and had seven months to boost my skills.
Then, on November 13, 2009, a flight of stairs got in the way of my dreams. I had severely fractured my wrist, requiring open surgical repair and a pin to stabilize the bones.
After three months of rest and physical therapy, I was ready to return to tennis. I was weaker than I had been prior to the injury, and the damage had been done; all of my hard work had been destroyed, and I had to restart my journey. I knew that I would be cutting it close, for I only had two months until tryouts. In that time, I focused on regaining strength in my previously debilitated arm and quickly climbed the ladder of progress. That year, I achieved a great milestone; I had earned a spot on the team. Although my placement was toward the back end of the ranking, I was extremely thankful to be on the team, and anything else was icing on the cake.
My tennis career was postponed for the next year because I was far too busy with schoolwork to play much or even try out for the team. Then, in tenth grade, after an eighteen-month break, my desire to play tennis suddenly returned. In January of this year, I decided that it would be beneficial to get some practice in preparation for the upcoming tryouts. After about three or four lessons to get myself back on track, March 19 came around in what felt like a matter of days, and I hadn’t any idea of what I had gotten myself into. Once Coach Krauz had opened his mouth, there was no turning back. “Welcome to tennis tryouts,” he smirked.
Those five days of tryouts were five of the most strenuous days of my life. At 3:15, each day would commence with a five-minute jog around the courts, which, by itself, would be enough to squeeze any energy I still had after a full seven-hour day of classes. Then, we’d have a brief period to stretch and get our muscles ready for action. After that warm-up, we’d be divided into six groups of seven, in which we’d face off against other students in our group. Then, at 5:00, the true “fun” would really begin. To end tryouts, we would have to endure twenty minutes of intense, nonstop conditioning. This would include anything from holding leg lifts for minutes at a time to sprinting up steep hills with other students on your back. I still don’t even know how I was able to make my way up to my mom’s car after those exhausting tryouts.
Finding out that I had made the tennis team was like crossing the finish line of a twenty-six-mile marathon. A week of hard work and commitment had paid off with knowing that I would get to spend the next two months pursuing my passion every day after school. Throughout the school day, I would look forward to those two hours of grueling, yet enjoyable practices. Every practice would conclude with one suicide; every member of the team would sprint back and forth across the width of the tennis court, touching every line drawn on the court. Throughout the whole practice, I would dread having to do that suicide like a young child dreads a flu shot. Although I would always finish in last place, I believe that victory and pride derive from one’s personal accomplishments, not whether or not one succeeds in defeating someone else. In addition, I feel that optimism is vital and I know that improvements will be made.
My journey with tennis has given me a new perspective on life, and I’m eager to see what the future holds. To think that doctors predicted that I might not even be able to walk properly, and now I’m playing at a high school junior varsity level is mind-blowing and astonishing. To some, tennis is an enjoyable game; to me, it’s a life-defining challenge.