When Christian Leader last talked with Casey Ratzlaff, he was a 14-year-old rising star on the world stage in junior wheelchair tennis. Nine years later his dedicated training earned him a place on the United States Paralympic wheelchair tennis team.
Ratzlaff, who was born with spina bifida, grew up at Ridgepoint Church (former First MB Church) in Wichita, Kansas. He recently moved to Birmingham, Alabama, continuing to pursue a career as a professional wheelchair tennis player. He took time out after playing in the World Cup tournament in Sardinia, Italy, to share his story.
How did you earn your place on the 2020 Paralympic Team?
It was the culmination of all the work I’ve put in and a dream for many, many years. The qualifying pool for direct entry is the top 42 players in the country, and I was part of that pool, actually placed about #23 in the world with the International Tennis Federation International Rankings.
The pandemic had a huge impact, even postponing the event for a year.
Yes, it put a lot of us in the athletic world on hold. More private courts, like the ones where I usually practiced at Wichita State, were closed, and we had to find other courts we could train on. It was a struggle getting through the lockdown. When the event didn’t happen in 2020, we just decided to keep going and stay ready for whatever they decided.
How was the experience in Tokyo when it finally came?
I’m really glad they had it and wasn’t really worried about COVID-19. I would have liked to have my family and coaches there, but I just focused on going and enjoyed it for what it was worth. It didn’t feel quite as big as I expected, playing in the empty facilities.
Did you accomplish your goals for the event?
My goal was to win a few rounds. We won the first round in both singles and doubles. In the second round in singles, I lost to a guy from Belgium who is currently #4 in the world. And in doubles we lost our second round to Spain, also among the best. You play as hard as you can and learn a lot. It’s very fun to play at that level.
What have you learned as an athlete that would also be helpful in a Christian walk?
I’ve had struggles where I feel like I’m going nowhere, running into a dead end. I’ve had to learn to be patient and realize it’s a process. Put in the work daily. The reward could come next week, next month or maybe 10 years from now. You just have to stay with it, be faithful and cherish the people you meet on the way.
Kathy Heinrichs Wiest is a freelance writer who loves the smell of whole wheat bread in the oven, the feel of an orange being plucked from the tree and the view from her front porch in Kingsburg, California. On Sunday mornings you’ll find her in the fourth pew from the front on the left at Kingsburg MB Church, moved by the hymns and praise songs and inspired by the stories of God at work locally and around the world. She and her husband, Steve, own Dovetail Remodeling. They have two grown daughters, one son-in-law and a precious granddaughter.