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Photo by Carrie Carpunky
Katelyn Carpunky hugs Greg Gelzinnis of the Gateway Confluence Wheelchair Sports Foundation after receiving her tennis wheelchair on April 26. Carpunky is in training for the U.S. Open in October.
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Photo by Carrie Carpunky
(From left) Carpunky, Kelly Behlmann of DASA Sports; Jess Batchelor, Katelyn’s coach; Greg Gelzinnis of Gateway Confluence and Sue Riemann of USTA Missouri Valley gather for a photo after Carpunky received her tennis wheelchair.
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Photo by Carrie Carpunky
Carpunky reaches for a return during practice in her newly donated wheelchair. Carpunky says her game instantly improved after receiving the proper equipment needed to compete.
ALTON - Katelyn Carpunky has lived her life doing everything doctors told her parents she could never do.
Carpunky has been training heavily for the last six months to compete in the 2016 U.S. Open-United States Tennis Association Wheelchair Championships in St. Louis this October. With the help of a donated customized wheelchair, Carpunky hopes to do more than turn a few heads on the court.
Carrie and Chris Carpunky were devastated 15 years ago when they learned their daughter had a birth defect. Born with spina bifida, part of Katelyn’s spinal cord formed outside of her body in a fluid-filled sac during development in the womb. She underwent surgical procedures the day after she was born to stabilize the condition, but the family knew they were facing challenges from that day forward.
“We didn’t know before she was born so in true Katelyn fashion, she was dramatic from the moment of her first breath,” Carrie Carpunky said. “They told us that she’d never walk and that she’d most likely have learning disabilities. We noticed after about three months that she had more leg movement than they said she would. After working with a therapist, she took her first steps at about age three with a walker and braces. She’s able to walk short distances with crutches, but we keep to the chair for long distances.”
At age six, Carpunky attended a Disabled Athlete Sports Association Camp and held a tennis racket for the first time, finding an ability to play the game.
“We played tennis one day just for fun; I didn’t know what to expect,” she said. “When Kelly Behlmann saw me hit a ball over the net, she said that tennis was something that I needed to be playing. I was able to hit the ball exactly where it needed to go. I fell in love with the sport of tennis almost immediately.”
Adapting to life in a wheelchair came easily for Katelyn, but playing sports requires a special type of chair that typically has to be customized for each athlete. On April 26, Katelyn was beyond words when Kelly Behlmann of the Disabled Athlete Sports Association, Greg Gelzinnis of the Gateway Confluence Wheelchair Sports Foundation and Sue Riemann of the Missouri Valley Tennis Foundation surprised her with a new wheelchair made just for her.
“I had been using a hand-me-down chair that I think was used by a basketball player,” Carpunky said. “It didn’t have straps and it didn’t fit my body. It was huge and so hard to push. I would try to turn in it and the chair would just stop. I never fell out of the chair, but not having the right kind of chair kept me from playing to my best ability.”
Behlmann and Riemann saw Carpunky’s potential and searched for an organization that would be able to fit Katelyn with a chair to allow her to play the sport she loves. Greg Gelzinnis of the Gateway Confluence Wheelchair Sports Foundation came through for the family and asked that it be kept a surprise.
“We found out in February that we were going to be able to get the chair,” Carrie Carpunky said. “I don’t know how we were able to keep it a secret for that long. We only talked about it when she was in bed at night and we had to use previously taken measurements for the specs in the chair. The first time she sat in the chair, was strapped in and moved around the court, it was like the chair and Katelyn were just one piece.”
The family saw immediate results in Katelyn’s performance and is excited for the possibilities during her first appearance at the U.S. Open in October.
“I knew I really wouldn’t be able to tip myself over in the old chair, but this one fits like it’s a part of me,” Carpunky said. “I know I’m so much more secure, the chair is lighter and I have so much more confidence playing now that I’m strapped in. My reach is so much further and I can go so much faster.”
The U.S. Open will take place Oct. 4-9 at the Dwight Davis Tennis Center in Forest Park. The competition is classified as an International Tennis Federation Super Series and is one of three in the world and the only one in North America. Approximately 25 countries will be represented with more than 200 athletes participating. The 2016 event marks the 37th anniversary of the U.S. Open USTA Wheelchair Championships and has been hosted in St. Louis since 2009.
“I’m not sure of what to expect; I’m just working hard to enjoy the experience,” Carpunky said. “I guess my goal is to go into the U.S. Open and come out a professional. It depends on the amount of points accumulated throughout the week of competition. Of course I want to make it to finals. I could be playing against adult men or women in this competition.”
The family is welcoming potential sponsors for future competitions as she progresses in tennis. Anyone interested in becoming a sponsor can contact Carrie Carpunky at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Katelyn has aspirations to become a makeup artist and is entertaining the idea of exploring the world of movie makeup and special effects. Carpunky gives tutorials on her Facebook page, Beauty by Katelyn.
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