Florida teen excels for varsity girls' tennis team despite playing in a wheelchair

The Port Orange (Fla.) Spruce Creek High girls' tennis program isn't your run-of-the-mill team, and junior Auburn Smith isn't your average tennis player. Together, they've made for a fantastic story this season.

Smith, 16, was born with spina bifida. While she walks with the aid of leg braces, her hopes of participating in high school athletics seemed impossible after a series of surgeries on her back and feet as a result of the congenital disorder that prevents the spinal cord from fully forming.

That all changed when Smith met fellow Port Orange native Nancy Olson, a two-time wheelchair tennis silver medalist at the Paralympics. Smith's evolution as a budding wheelchair tennis star is captured wonderfully in a feature story written by the Orlando Sentinel's Alicia DelGallo.

Eight years after first picking up a tennis racket, the Spruce Creek junior became one of 13 girls to make the Hawks' varsity tennis team -- a program that has won its conference championship every season since 2004. She has reportedly produced a 4-1 record, including three doubles victories this year.

The rules allow for the ball to bounce twice on Smith's side of the court instead of once, which seems more than fair, considering she has to propel herself across the court in a wheelchair.

"I can throw stuff at her like, 'Grease your wheels! Get going! You should've gotten that ball,' and she takes everything in stride," Spruce Creek girls' tennis coach Andy Bacha told the Orlando Sentinel. "I've never seen her down, and that just brings up the whole team."

Currently, Smith ranks No. 11 in the country among junior girls' wheelchair players, per the International Tennis Federation. Her goal is to make the junior national team and play for Auburn University, the school for which she was named -- which just so happens to have a wheelchair tennis team.

"People with disabilities, we don't have to do just nothing," Smith told the Sentinel. "We can do the same things (as everyone else), just differently." Yup, Auburn Smith is on a roll -- quite literally.

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