Nationally ranked Wheelchair Tennis player Auburn Smith is the Easter Seals 2013 National Youth Representative.
© Easter Seals
By Sara Brewster, special to USTA.com
High school sophomore Auburn Smith is a nationally ranked tennis player and aspiring musician who enjoys riding her adapted bicycle and loves to travel. She doesn’t let a disability get in her way.
There was a time when her doctors couldn’t imagine Auburn doing even half of what she does today. Born with spina bifida and clubfoot, she was just one day old when she had her first surgery. Her parents were told that she would likely never walk – something no one in the Smith family accepted.
At seven months, Linda and Jim Smith enrolled Auburn at Easter Seals for inclusive childcare and therapy. With both parents working full time, Easter Seals was the one place where Auburn could have her physical therapy during the day at childcare. Linda, a respiratory therapist, says she recognized immediately that they were in the hands of top-notch professionals.
"There was such a calmness about them," she says. "As a new parent of a child with special needs, it was wonderful to have that steady guidance. We knew we had come to the right place."
At 18 months, Auburn had surgery to realign her feet and the Smiths were amazed by the optimism of Easter Seals’ early intervention team.
"They told us they would have Auburn walking by age 2," says Linda, "and they did. I can’t describe in words what that was like. After that," she says, "everything else seemed much more attainable."
Auburn transitioned from Easter Seals childcare to her local school when she was three. But as she’s grown and faced new mobility challenges, Easter Seals has been there to improve her gait and balance or get her fitted for new leg braces.
These days, Auburn is on the honor roll and busy at school. Her teachers say she projects a calm confidence and that she is wise beyond her years. Her ceramics teacher says she’s a rock star and "a one of a kind kid."
Now, when she comes to Easter Seals, it’s for fun. Tennis Everyone, a partnership between Easter Seals and the USTA, introduces kids with mobility challenges to tennis. Auburn’s coach Nancy Olson is a two-time Paralympic silver medalist in wheelchair tennis. Auburn works with her longtime physical therapist at Easter Seals to strengthen her back and side muscles so she can better maneuver her sports wheelchair on the court.
A natural at the game, Auburn says the rewards of tennis go way beyond winning. "I love the competition and meeting new people and how it keeps me healthy."
Auburn participates annually in the USTA/ITF International Junior Wheelchair Tennis Camp. She has been named the Easter Seals 2013 National Youth Representative. Auburn will share her inspirational story of perseverance and determination throughout the nation.