Seven years ago, 14-year-old Christian Garay played tennis for the first time.
“I started playing tennis because my dad played,” he said. “It looked like fun.”
His dad, Angel Garay, who was stationed at Fort Benning for eight years and is now in South Korea assigned to the 70th Brigade Support Battalion, said he remembers when Christian began playing tennis.
“I knew he loved tennis even when he was a child,” Angel said. “He would get upset if I told him we couldn’t go to the court. If it rained, I would have to find towels and clean up the court. He would play (tennis) in the rain and we were the only ones out there.”
Christian used a wheelchair from ages 4 to 7 because of legg-calve-perthes disease and could only play tennis for short periods of time. Legg-calve-perthes disease causes improper blood supply to part of the hip joint, resulting in easily broken and poorly healed bones, according to www.mayoclinic.com.
“He would get up from the wheelchair and play until his hands bled,” Angel said. “I had to tell him to stop playing. Fifteen minutes later, he would go back to playing.”Christian was in a brace for seven months, but this didn’t stop him from playing and tennis helped him get out of the wheelchair, Angel said.
“I love tennis because it’s fun, competitive and it’s a challenge,” he said.
In a typical season, Christian competes in more than 15 tournaments. So far this year, he has competed in tournaments including the National Clay Court Championship in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and the Burger King 16’s in Columbus.
Christian chooses to compete against an older age group — 16-year-olds — and is ranked both in the state and nationally.
“It’s actually easier when I play (against older kids). I play better,” he said. “I like it because they are older and more experienced, so it’s a totally different game.”He will compete in fewer tournaments this year because he was selected to be on the Puerto Rico National Team. He is the youngest member.
He said he was excited about earning a spot on the team and is looking forward to the training.
“You have to work at tennis year-round to get better,” he said. “It’s not something you can drop for a couple of months and pick back up.”Christian trains on the court and in the gym four days a week for 4.5 hours each day.You have to be mentally and physically tough and stay focused to be successful in tennis, Christian said — especially when playing multiple matches in one day.
“It’s a physical sport, but once you’re in a later match, it’s a mental battle,” he said.
“You have to be able to fight through being tired, even when you don’t feel like it.”Christian, who is home-schooled, is able to find an even balance between school and tennis, Angel said.
“He is a good kid, gets good grades and trains hard — we are proud of him,” said Miriam, Christian’s mom.
Christian plans to continue playing tennis at the University of Georgia and said he wants to be a professional.