No legs. No problem

Mar. 21, 2013 @ 05:07 AM

A set of short legs, known as stubbies, carried 12-year-old Conner Stroud to the tennis courts Tuesday afternoon.  As he ran toward the court, with his tennis racket on his shoulder, Conner arrived several paces

ahead of his mother who practiced with him.

The son of Dewey and Rita Stroud of Rutherfordton, Conner is a seventh grader at Thomas Jefferson Classical Academy (TJCA) and plays on the school’s middle school tennis team. Born into a tennis playing family, his father says he definitely got the tennis gene. Dewey went to Clemson University on a tennis scholarship and is the tennis coach at TJCA. Conner’s sister, Whitney, a nurse in Asheville, went to Mars Hill on a tennis scholarship and his brother, Taylor, played tennis in high school.

Conner is 40 inches tall, much shorter than the other tennis players on his team and his competitors, but he wins matches. 

“He can play the ball and if you hit it to him, you’ll be sorry,” Rita said. “Conner has better strokes than other players, but their legs are longer.”

“He has worked very hard at playing tennis and has not let his short stature hold him back,” Dewey said.

Born with Proximal Femora Focal Deficiency (PFFD) in both legs, Conner has no hip joints or femurs. PFFD is a condition where the end of the bone closest to the hip is too short, so Conner’s legs are very small.

When he was two years old, Conner underwent surgery at the Shriners Hospital for Children in Greenville, S.C. where he received his first set of legs. His parents made the decision to have the front part of his feet amputated. The surgery and subsequent stubbies allowed him to learn to walk. 

“He tried the prosthetic legs but he did not like them,” Rita said. “They slowed him down.”

Conner doesn’t use a wheelchair at school, at home or at the tennis courts. At large shopping centers and other more crowded areas, Conner could be seen in the wheelchair but so far, he prefers walking, running and practicing on his stubbies. 

All the tennis practice has paid off.

In January, the Strouds traveled to Pinehurst for the North Carolina Tennis Association’s annual Tennis Weekend. There Conner received the Jr. Sportsmanship Award in the 12-year-old category. He also received the Peggy Golden Spirit Award. The award is presented to the person in the tournament who has shown a lot of spirit and who has a love and passion for tennis. 

“He represents what we want our players to be like,” Matt Gottfried, Marketing & Communicating Coordinator from the NC Tennis Association in Greensboro, said of Conner.

Conner’s name is listed among 30 extraordinary recipients of the annual awards presented at Pinehurst. 

Last summer Conner and Dewey were invited to hit during the Winston-Salem Pro Tournament just before the U.S. Open.

“We hit right after John Isner, the 10th ranked player in the world,” Dewey said. Isner is also one of the tallest tennis professionals at 6’9’’.

“Here was the tallest guy in the tournament talking with the shortest guy.

Because of Conner’s amazing tennis ability, we got to hit in between matches with Isner,” Dewey said.

Conner is also being featured in the 2013 NC Tennis Yearbook and the North Carolina Tennis Association group is also writing another feature story on the young tennis phenomenon.

Like a lot of boys his age, he enjoys all types of music, “except jazz” he quickly exclaimed.

Spaghetti is his favorite food and he watches very little television. He is a good student at TJCA and his favorite subject is history. 

His favorite hobbies are spending time with his older brother and sister.  

“I really don’t have any challenges,” he said after hitting a few tennis balls on Tuesday. He said he has never felt as if he had a disability.

As a younger child, when strangers asked Conner what happened to his legs he told them a shark bit them off.

Today he is a little more reserved but he doesn’t mind talking about his stature.

“I want to be the best tennis player and I want to teach wheelchair tennis,” he said.

Conner said he would like to attend the University of Hawaii.

 “It’s because he’ll be away from his mother and it’s somewhere to go,” Rita said.

Dewey and Rita both believe their son will go far in the tennis world.

“To be a good player, you have to have an athletic body and a determination. He doesn’t have the body, but he has the drive”, she said.

A few years ago he won his first doubles match playing in a United States Tennis Association tournament in Greenville.

Conner is aging out of the junior tennis categories and is moving on to his next opponents who  will be taller and faster. Because of those factors, he will compete in wheelchair tournaments. His first tournament will be in Hilton Head, S.C. in August.

“He is going to do very well at that,” Dewey said.

Dewey and Rita said they have always focused on what Conner can do and never on what he could not do. 

“It’s a matter of all the things he can do,” she said.