A young man plays tennis his way
Grant Johnson has learned to play tennis with cerebral palsy that affects the right side of his body. (Grant Johnson/Riverton tennis)
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Tennis may be his second choice of sports he loves, but Riverton High School senior Grant Johnson has made a lasting impression on his opponents, coaches and teammates.
“He has been playing tennis for me since he was a freshman,” Silverwolves tennis coach Karl McKenzie said. “Honestly, when he first came out, I was worried about how I was going to cut him. I was nervous about dealing with his physical deformity. I was not trying to be judgmental, but that was my concern. He is such a great kid and works so hard now I do not even realize he is any different than any of the other kids.”
Johnson has cerebral palsy affecting the entire right side of his body. Through sports, his disability has gotten less and less severe, but he still has use of only one arm and has taught himself how to play tennis.
“He never wanted to give up,” McKenzie said. “I found he had played baseball one-handed and really wanted to be like every other American kid. I have never seen a kid like him.”
Baseball is Johnson favorite sport. He started playing little league when he was 7 years old. He is a member of the Riverton Babe Ruth 18 and under boys baseball program and cheers for the St Louis Cardinals. His favorite player is Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina.
Playing tennis with one arm presented challenges. Tossing the ball, grabbing the racket and smashing a serve all with one arm is different than how everyone else plays. He said he has had to work on that and his backhand to be competitive.
“His opponents really do not know what to expect,” McKenzie said. “I think they even devalue him because they do not know what to expect. His serve is different, and he had to work on a weakness, but he has overcome all of that. He does it all with just one hand.”
He has played doubles and is trying to earn a singles spot. His doubles partners have included Jaxson Day and Peter Schouten. This summer, he has played some Utah Tennis Association singles tournaments in preparation for next season.
Johnson learned baseball playing first base and pitching. His father showed him the skill, and he practiced with his friends at recess and after school.
“I think he has a lot of determination,” McKenzie said. “He has always had that grit to be better. I notice that he does not want his disability to be the focus. He wants to fight through and do what it takes to win. He is very humble and does not want to be singled out. It is something that has helped him stand out.”
Johnson plans to attend college after graduation. He wants to go into business management.
“I want to keep practicing and learning,” Johnson said. “I don’t like special recognition from the fans or an umpire. I try to be courteous, but it bugs me not to be treated like a normal athlete. It gives me an extra purpose to keep playing sports.”
Another player at Riverton baseball has the same disability, and Johnson said he has played catch with him, and he knows that he wants to be a pitcher. He is glad he could be an example and help him learn the game.
“He is a good kid, and I am glad he can be an example to other kids.” McKenzie said.