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SANTA ANA : A Match of Racquets and Wheelchairs

October 19, 1994|JON NALICK

Ketan Gandhi remains undefeated on the handball court, but that's not the only reason his friends consider him a champion.

Gandhi, 14, is confined to a wheelchair. But his determination to compete with his peers in sports has won him the admiration of his fellow students at Stephen R. Fitz Intermediate School.

Since the beginning of the year, he has challenged students to hop into a wheelchair and try playing against him in a home-grown mix of tennis, racquetball and volleyball on wheels.

"They say, 'That looks really easy.' But then they play, and I usually beat them. Then they say, 'Oh, that's really hard,' " he said with a smile.

Gandhi suffers from a osteogenesis imperfecta, a genetic disorder that makes bones extremely brittle and easy to break. As a result, he has required a wheelchair to get around since he was 5, he said.

He mostly watched from the sidelines last year as his friends played sports. But this year he decided to try tennis. Because the courts were too large, he switched to playing on the handball courts, and instituted other game modifications such as using a bouncier racquetball rather than a tennis ball.

He issued a challenge to a group of friends during one recent lunch recess, announcing, "OK, who's going to play me? Let's get started."

Moments later, he was racking up point after point against 13-year-old Dao Hoang, a newcomer to the game. Swinging tennis racquets, the two traded shots against the wall and chased down the ball to return the other's hits.

"He's heroic. He puts all his courage into (playing) even though he's handicapped," said Tanner Smith, 13.

Gandhi said he would love to challenge tennis pro Andre Agassi to a game, and added that he could probably beat the famous athlete.

Because Agassi is presumably not as skilled at playing from a wheelchair, Gandhi exclaimed, "he would stink!"

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