Conner Stroud has been an athlete for almost as long as he has been an amputee – for the majority of his life.
Stroud, who turned 15 years old in April, was born with proximal femoral focal deficiency (PFFD) and had a bilateral Boyd foot amputation on both legs when he was 2 years old. Visits to Shiners Hospital for Children became routine, but so did trips to the tennis club.
A family affair
“My parents own a tennis club. I probably started [playing tennis] when I was 4 or 5 [years old],” Stroud told O&P News in a phone interview during a quick break from after-school tennis practice. Stroud practices for 8 to 10 hours each week and is on the court most days after school, according to his mother, Rita. He also plays for his high school tennis team.
Tennis runs in the family: Stroud’s parents teach and coach tennis, his father Dewey played tennis for Clemson University and his sister Whitney played at Mars Hill University.
“When I was 8 years old, I played in my first able-bodied USTA tennis tournament, and I played a lot until I turned 12,” he said.
Image: Stroud R.
Stroud played while wearing foreshortened prostheses and regularly faced off against able-bodied players in tournaments. He won his first doubles match and several singles matches as well as the Peggy Golden Spirit Award and the Hal Southern Junior Male Tennis Sportsmanship Award, both from the United States Tennis Association (USTA) North Carolina.
“It was great to win [my first] match and just have the feeling – you have won something that you put in your hard work for and you finally get a reward,” Stroud said.
Making a transition
As Stroud got older, so did his opponents – soon he was no longer able to keep up on his “stubbies” on the court.
“The opponents were getting able to place the ball better so I could not move as fast as them but I had the shot,” he said.
In order to play to his strengths, Stroud decided to try wheelchair tennis.
“Karin Korb [former U.S. wheelchair tennis champion and Paralympian] had a clinic in Asheville, N.C., and I went to it and that is when I actually started playing,” he said. “Then my dad learned about wheelchair tennis and started teaching me.”
Of the new kind of tennis, he said, “It was partially similar [to tennis without a wheelchair]. The strokes were about the same. I just had to maneuver the court differently.”
Stroud quickly saw success in wheelchair tennis – in fact, he currently ranks number 1 in the United States for Junior Wheelchair Tennis by the USTA and number 15 in the world by the International Tennis Federation (ITF). His success was aided by the support of his parents as well as his prosthetist: Ron Brooks, CPO, of Sprinkle Prosthetics Inc., in Greenville, S.C. has worked with Stroud since his amputation.
“He is always trying to find new things to help me,” Stroud said.
Image: Stroud R.
His talent in tennis has given Stroud lots of great memories. He described a few of his favorite moments: “In the Netherlands last year, me and my doubles partner upset the number one junior team in the world, from the Netherlands [at the 2014 BNP Paribas World Team Cup]. Then I won the [USTA/ITF Cruyff Foundation Junior Wheelchair Tennis Camp] in California for the Americas. So that was another good moment. And I won at National [Junior] Gold Ball in Atlanta, for the national championships.”
Stroud also had the opportunity to attend the U.S. Open in August 2013.
“I got to watch all the professionals,” he said. “It was a good experience and I got to meet Rafael Nadal, who was number one in the world, so that was a good experience to meet him and get to talk to him.”
Having conquered junior wheelchair tennis in the United States, Stroud has no plans of stopping.
“I want to just keep training and try to become the number-one junior in the world, and then just keep having fun,” he said.
He may consider becoming a wheelchair tennis coach when he grows up, but he also has other interests.
“I would actually like to be an inspirational speaker,” he said.
Stroud has become accustomed to speaking when he receives awards and has led some tennis exhibitions. He would like to share the joy he has found in tennis with others.
“Tennis has taught me to just keep being positive and have fun doing what you love,” he said.
His advice for others with physical challenges who want to attempt a sport?
“You are not going to be the best when you start, but as long as you keep practicing and enjoy it, the possibilities are endless.” — by Amanda Alexander
Disclosure: Stroud reports no relevant financial disclosures.