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Dawn Crawford Finds Solace in Wheelchair Tennis

October 9, 2013 12:41 PM
Dawn Crawford
Dawn Crawford

By Matt Douthett | The Times


Dawn Crawford wasn't going to give up.

Despite an accident that left the Schererville resident a paraplegic, the mother of two young boys was going to make sure she would be there for her sons.

In 2000, Crawford was in a home under construction. The basement stairs had not been finished yet, and were covered with Shalitex board.

"I stepped on it, thought it was the flooring, and fell, broke my back and injured my spinal cord," Crawford said.

The freak accident left her in the hospital for a week, then rehab for five weeks. Her youngest son, Keith, now a freshman at Lake Central, had just started walking when the accident happened.

"I wanted to get back home and be their mom," Crawford said. "I wanted (therapists) to teach me whatever I needed to do so I could still take care of my kids. They were the push, for sure."

Fast forward seven years, and Crawford was looking to take up a sport she could play with her kids.

She met with John B. Perkovich, the tennis pro at Briar Ridge, to learn how to play tennis.

"As we started working, I tried to treat her like a real player," said Perkovich, who was trained to teach wheelchair tennis players but never had before. "I tried to treat her like an able-bodied player. I knew she was a good athlete and in shape."

The rules of wheelchair tennis differ only slightly from the mainstream sport.

The only difference is players are allowed to take two bounces. The chairs the players use are designed for extra mobility, as the wheels are spread out further and allow for faster turning speed.

What began as just a way to play with her kids blossomed into something much bigger for Crawford.

As of Tuesday, Crawford sports a record of 45-23 in USTA tournaments. Most recently, she went 7-1 in the Midwest Wheelchair Championships Category II competition and won the Women's A Singles and Women's A Doubles competition, which earned her a No. 2 ranking as of Oct. 1 in the Women's Wheelchair A Singles category on USTA.com's 12-month rolling ranking list.

With having a family, Crawford doesn't play as often as most players, however.

"When I first came out, I didn't know how to serve or do a backhand," Crawford said. "I went into it thinking 'I can't do a one-handed backhand.' You have to keep your racquet in your hands at all time. I think it has been (a learning experience)."

Crawford's story is an inspiration to others.

She's a substitute teacher in the Lake Central school system, and children are surprised to hear she can play tennis and even water ski.

Crawford also drives her minivan using hand controls.

"It's incredible," Perkovich said. "She's not just some player hitting around balls for fun. She's a serious athlete, no doubt about it. She's accomplished a lot of things and can push it even more."