Roger Crawford had everything he needed to play tennis – except two hands and a leg. When Roger’s parents first saw their son, they saw a baby with a thumb-like projection extended directly out of his right forearm, and a thumb and one finger stuck out of his left forearm. He had no palms. The baby’s arms and legs were shortened, and he had only three toes on his shrunken right foot and a withered left leg, which would later be amputated. The doctor said Roger suffered from a rare birth defect named ectrodactylism and Roger would probably never walk or care for himself.
“My parents always taught me that I was only as handicapped as I wanted to be,” said Roger. “They never allowed me to feel sorry for myself or take advantage because of my handicap. My school papers were continually late as I had to hold the pencil with both hands to write slowly. I asked Dad to write a note to my teachers, asking for a two-day extension on my assignments. Instead Dad made me start writing my paper two days earlier!”
Roger’s father always encouraged him to get involved in sports, teaching Roger to catch and throw a volleyball, and play backyard football after school. At age 12, Roger managed to win a spot on the school football team. Before every game, Roger would visualise his dream of scoring a touchdown. Then one day, he got his chance. The ball landed in his arms and off he ran as fast as he could on his artificial leg toward the goal line, his coach and teammates cheering wildly. But at the ten-yard line, a guy from the other team caught up with Roger, grabbing his left ankle. Roger tried to pull his artificial leg free, but instead it ended up being pulled off.
“I was still standing up,” recalls Roger. “I didn’t know what else to do so I started hopping towards the goal line. The referee ran over and threw his hands into the air. Touchdown! You know, even better than the six points was the look on the face of the other kid who was holding my artificial leg.”
Roger could swing a tennis racket. Unfortunately, when he swung it hard, his weak grip usually launched it into space. By luck, Roger stumbled upon an odd-looking tennis racket in a sports shop and accidentally wedged his finger between its double-barred handle when he picked it up. The snug fit made it possible for Roger to swing, serve and volley like an able-bodied player. He practiced every day and was soon playing but also losing matches. But Roger persisted. He practiced and played. Surgery on the two fingers of his left hand enabled Roger to grip his special racket better and greater improving his game. Roger went on to play college tennis, finishing his tennis career with 22 wins and 11 loses. He became the first physically handicapped tennis player to be certified as a teaching professional by the United States Professional Tennis Association.
“When people ask me how I’ve been able to overcome my physical handicaps, I tell them that I haven’t overcome anything. I’ve simply learned what I can’t do – such as play the piano or eat with chopsticks – but more importantly, I’ve learned what I can do. Then I do what I can do with all my heart and soul.”