Though his competitive ability is confined to a wheel chair, Noah Yablong did not allow that to confine him from accomplishing his greatest athletic dream.
When Yablong was 9, some doctors diagnosed pain in his right hip as growing pains. Finally, one physician saw an X-ray that showed Legg-Perthes Disease, a degenerative bone condition found only in children which cuts off the circulation to the hip joint.
Earlier this month, Yablong, now 23, was named to the United States wheelchair tennis team which will complete in the London Paralympics from Aug. 29 to Sept. 9. More than 4,200 athletes are expected to compete in the overall event, and the tennis competition will be held Sept. 1 to Sept. 8.
Reaching the Paralympics has always been the Homestead graduate's goal since he started working with coach Vince Williams. He also played wheelchair basketball with Turnstone for six years. Playing in the Paralympics is the major reason he joined the University of Arizona wheelchair team. He recently graduated with an engineering management degree with a minor in mechanical engineering.
``For me, finding wheelchair sports was a blessing because it allowed me to continue to compete,'' Yablong said Friday after a training session in Florida. ``When I was younger I played a lot of sports and I loved to compete. Then I got my disability and it fell off the wayside quite a bit because I lost the ability to compete the way I wanted to.''
Now he's ranked as the 81st-best men's wheelchair tennis player in the world after reaching as high as No. 41 in December.
"Tennis is really the only sport I've encountered so far that it's possible to mix," Yablong said. "You can't play basketball in the chair against an able body, because they can use their height to block your shot, and you also run the risk of hurting people. In tennis you can even play doubles easily."
Before his condition was discovered, Yablong played tennis for fun, giving him a head start on the logistics when he started to play in a wheelchair. The rest of the game was a lot different, including learning to carry the racket while pushing the wheels on the chair.
"You don't have time to put the racket in your lap and push so you have to push with the racket in your hand," Yablong said. "I had a lot of the basics down, and then I had to adjust. You don't have the ability to get your hips set, so in essence the chair becomes your legs and hips."
Now he's training five hours a day to get ready while also trying to find a job. He's hoping his future employer will understand if he can't start work until mid-September. That could be something else to overcome.
``Don't let a disability stop you,'' Yablong said. ``Find a way around it because that's basically what I did.''