Casey Ratzlaff didn’t let being born with spina bifida (a split spine) prevent him from finding a way to become active in sports.
Sky Harbour couple Herman and Beverly Langston are the grandparents of 15-year-old Kansas resident Casey. He was here recently with his parents, Craig and Tammy Ratzlaff, visiting from Wichita.
His mother had been advised by her doctors in Nashville at the time she was pregnant to have an abortion because of Casey’s serious medical condition.
He had his first spinal surgery before he was born, at Vanderbilt University. Casey was only the seventh person to undergo that surgery, which was experimental at the time.
“It was new technology,” Tammy said. “It really made a huge difference for him.”
Casey has grown into a strong young man who also had the hand-eye coordination to excel in wheelchair tennis.
While here, Casey made contact with Gonzalo Nunez, the tennis pro at Pecan Plantation Country Club, to take a couple of lessons so he could remain sharp for some upcoming tournaments.
A HIT WITH CASEY
Because his whole family has athletic ability, Casey wanted to find something physical he could do and enjoy.
“Tennis never crossed our mind,” Herman Langston said.
“You could watch him throw a ball and you knew he had something there,” Beverly Langston said.
Wheelchair tennis turned out to be just the thing for Casey. He started playing about three years ago, and began entering tournaments last year.
“I’ve been improving a lot more lately. I’ve been able to do things I never thought I’d do,” Casey said shortly before returning to Kansas.
He moved up from the B Division in the wheelchair tennis rankings to A Division earlier this year. In a recent San Diego tournament Casey won both the Men’s A Division singles and the junior boys singles title.
“He’s an inspiration to the entire family,” Herman said. “We thank God for Casey. His mother would never consider an abortion. We are so excited.”
Beverly was able to watch him play in person at a tennis camp in California.
“It’s amazing how he can control the wheelchair and hit the ball at the same time,” she said.
It’s also about so much more than the physical act of hitting a ball.
“We think that it’s awesome,” Beverly said. “He now has a purpose in life. It has really changed his life.”
Casey said he tried out a couple of other sports at a wheelchair sports exposition. It was tennis that grabbed his attention.
“I just loved how fast-paced it was,” said Casey, a high school sophomore who has played in about 10 tournaments, and usually practices about five times a week. “I feel like that kind of play fit me.”
He also has been lifting weights three days a week.
Casey is being coached by Wichita native Nick Taylor. Taylor has competed in two paralympic games and won a gold medal in doubles.
Taylor has sponsors and plays wheelchair tennis professionally. Casey indicated he wants to follow Taylor’s lead.
His mother, Tammy, said, “It’s pretty awesome for us to see. He saw his brother (Taylor) competing in football. He said, ‘Mom, I need a sport.’ He found his niche. I feel like God brought that to us.
“He’s always had a good attitude. When he was on crutches, he would never want anybody to help him.”
Tennis has also helped bring Casey added maturity, she said.
“It’s made him a better person because he wants to give back,” she said. “He’s carved out a really cool thing for himself.”
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