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Grandson to visit the White House on Easter

Spina bifida leads to success in wheelchair tennis

Staff writer

When Marvin and Marilyn Ratzlaff of Hillsboro found out that their newborn grandson, Casey Ratzlaff, was born with a defective spinal column, they were devastated.

“We sat down and cried,” Marilyn said.

However, that same grandson has made them proud as a world-class wheelchair tennis player who is headed to the White House this weekend.

Casey and two other World Cup winners have accepted an invitation to attend the White House Easter Egg Roll on Sunday. They will provide an exhibition on the south White House lawn to show kids how to play tennis and to raise awareness of spina bifida.

“It’s a great opportunity,” he said.

The defect left him with impaired muscle power in his lower legs. He learned to walk with crutches as an 8-year-old.

He had a happy childhood and attended school like everyone else, his grandmother said.

Now 19 years old, Casey has turned his disability into a meaningful life.

He is a professional wheelchair tennis player who has won numerous medals in singles and doubles competition.

It all began when Nick Taylor, a three-time gold medalist in Paralympics, gave an exhibition at Casey’s school, Maize South Middle School, when he was 12 years old.

Casey tried it out and was immediately pegged by Taylor as having potential.

“When I discovered that Nick had won all those medals, it just kind of sparked my fire,” Casey said. “I thought it would be cool if someday I won as many medals as him and traveled all around the world like him.”

Casey attended a training camp in California and was equipped with a wheelchair especially designed for the sport.

A year later, he was playing so well that he was selected to participate in the junior World Team Cup competition in Turkey. At 14, he was the youngest member of the U.S. team. He and a partner swept the lone match they played.

He played on a Maize High School tennis team as a freshman, playing alongside able-bodied players.

In 2016, he played on a junior team that traveled to Japan and won the World Team Cup, the top world event for wheelchair junior tennis players. Other competitions have taken him to Equador and South Africa.

He now plays as an adult, and his goal is to compete in the 2020 Paralympic games at Tokyo, Japan. He takes lessons at Wichita State University five days a week.

He is rated the No. 1 player in the men’s open division in the U.S. and 37th in the world. He has been featured in The Wichita Eagle several times.

Casey’s next competition will be in Amsterdam in late May.

“He’s been an inspiration to all of us,” his father, Craig Ratzlaff, said. “He doesn’t complain. He doesn’t ever question how God made him. It’s just who he is. How he goes about life is a motivation to all of us.”

Casey’s message to others with handicaps is this: “Hating yourself for having that disability is only going to make it worse. Instead, you have to go out there and find out what you can do and show people that you don’t care about your disability.”

“Casey has a brother and two sisters, and he’s the one who never complains,” his grandmother said. “We’re thankful for his life. Our prayer has always been that he wouldn’t be bitter and that he would enjoy life.”

Casey is thankful for his grandparents’ encouragement.

“They have given me undying support for furthering my career,” he said. “They are proud of me and are an inspiration to me.”

Last modified March 28, 2018

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