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Concord senior chases normalcy by chasing tennis balls

Kaitlyn Kronemeyer has spina bifida, but that's not stopping her from competing for the Minutemen.

Posted on May 10, 2014 at 4:30 a.m.

DUNLAP — Kaitlyn Kronemeyer is doing something out on the tennis court that appears extraordinary.

Ironically, it's just part of her desire to do the ordinary.

"I think I live a pretty normal life compared to some people," the 18-year-old Concord High School senior said after completing another junior varsity singles match for the Minutemen earlier this week in her wheelchair.

Kaitlyn said she tries to embrace that "pretty-normal-life" mindset whenever her mind wanders towards a "why-me?" mindset.

"Yeah, sometimes I ask that," Kaitlyn said candidly, "but then I think that it could be much worse, and I think about how I do live a pretty normal life."

Kaitlyn has spina bifida, a birth defect that put her in walkers and braces initially, and has largely restricted her to a wheelchair since about age 5.

But spina bifida is not all Kaitlyn has.

She also has that spot on the Concord tennis team; she has supportive family and friends, including 14-year-old brother Carson; she has a driver's license, which she smiles broadly about; and she has a plan to go to Ball State University and study dietetics.

In other words, pretty normal stuff.

"Kaitlyn really considers herself like everybody else," said her mom, Vicki Kronemeyer. "She just gets around differently."

"When you're around Kaitlyn for a while, you don't even think about her in a wheelchair," Concord coach Jan Soward said. "The only thing we ever help her with is getting her (competition) chair in and out of the tennis building. She's incredibly self-sufficient."

While Kaitlyn has taken tennis lessons off and on for several years, it's been difficult to find other wheelchair competitors, and it wasn't until within the last year that she was convinced to play for the Minutemen. She was a manager for both the boys and girls teams during her sophomore and junior years.

"(Soward) kept encouraging me, and eventually my parents talked me into (playing)," Kaitlyn said of Vicki and dad Eric. "I was really doubtful about how I would do, whether I would win any matches, and I'm not a very competitive person, so I just wasn't sure."

"She was really scared," Vicki said of her daughter. "Her self-esteem wasn't the highest and she was worried about what people would think, but we told her, 'You can't worry about what other people think. Just get out there and do what you want to do, because this is for you, not anybody else.' She finally got that courage."

The experience has been fruitful for all involved.

"She's worked really hard at it and I'm very proud of her for going out there and doing her best, and she's having a great time," Vicki said.

"I feel a lot more a part of the team playing," Kaitlyn said. "I feel more involved and get to connect with people better."

People are connecting with her as well.

"I think she's a huge inspiration for our team," Soward said. "It's amazing what she's able to do."

The inspiring part isn't restricted to Kaitlyn's own teammates,either. Vicki tells the story of an aspiring soccer player from just outside the area, an individual with a prosthetic leg, who became aware of Kaitlyn's efforts, and is thus considering going out for his school's soccer team next fall.

"I've had (opponents) say they respect what I'm doing and that I am an inspiration, and that's nice to hear," Kaitlyn acknowledged. "They're typically really, really nice and they don't judge me."

Added Kaitlyn, "I don't think they take it easy on me. They treat me like anybody else."

Which is just what she wants.

If Kaitlyn does win, she wants that to be legitimate. So far, she's won one match this spring. Her goal at the beginning of the season was to win three.

The clear strength of her game is her serve. From her seated position during a match Wednesday she served with a pace that was at least average among JV players and with an accuracy that was uncommon among such players. Her first-serve percentage was 73.1, and more impressive, she never double-faulted.

"I try to be consistent," Kaitlyn said. "If I have a double fault, that is rare."

As is typical in wheelchair tennis rules, a ball can bounce twice on Kaitlyn's side of the net and still be considered in play. Other than that, she's playing by basically the same rules as her opponent.

"It takes me longer to get there, so that's why I'm allowed two bounces," said Kaitlyn, who maneuvers her chair with both hands while still holding her racket in her right. "Sometimes, you have to decide (between one and two bounces anyway), and obviously hitting the high balls is the hard part for me."

"She has a great arm, but this is the first time she's playing competitively, so it's all about learning strategy of the game and anticipating shots and where to be on the court," Vicki said. "Starting that your senior year is a disadvantage, but I'm just happy she's out there."

Next fall, Kaitlyn will be even further "out there" as she heads to Ball State to pursue that interest in dietetics, which was inspired by her own dietary needs.

When she heads off, it might actually be harder on mom than daughter.

"I've tried to be independent my whole life," Kaitlyn said. "There are a few things that people have to help me with, but for the most part, I do everything by myself."

"I'm excited for her," Vicki said of her daughter heading to a college about three hours away, "but she's our first, so, of course, I'm very nervous. It's going to be an emotional time, I'm sure. We're very close. The goal from the day she was born was for her to be independent, and now that she is, I'm like, 'Oh, no, I gotta let go.'"


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