By Ryan Wolfington
"Hadrien has an 8 % chance of running again," uttered the Dr. to Hadrien Saperstein's father Mark.
I took a group of children to a national tournament in California. In the middle of the night Hadrien, now ranked top 40 in the United States, was in tremendous pain and shaking. I didn't know if it was from dehydration from that days match or a previous virus he fought a week earlier.
As the night went on, so did the pain. Hadrien called his dad to come get him. By the time Mark drove to pick him up and drove back to the Las Vegas Hospital, Hadrien had no feeling from the waste down, he was paralyzed.
It took weeks and weeks for a diagnosis. Once the rare disease was identified, it was too late. Most patients don't ever return to full movement, in fact, most never walk again.
Unfazed, Hadrien knew he would walk again and planned on playing tennis. "Even if I have to play chair tennis, I will compete again."
Meanwhile, the doctor discharged Hadrien into a rehabilitation center geared to prepare Hadrien for living with his disability learning; How to get out of bed as a paralyzed person, How to use a catheter, How to get from one side of the room to the other.
"This process helped me realize how many things I use to take for granted," said Hadrien. "Like going to the bathroom, so many people don't realize how lucky they are to be able to do that so easily.
I would get updates from Mark, "He moved his toes today", soon it was "He moved 8 inches", then it became 2 feet, 4 feet, across the room.
Then the insurance companies wanted to release him. They did not share Hadrien's determination that he could walk and run again, nor did they want to be against statistics and pay for him to be in rehab if there was no progress. But Mark and the hospital fought for Hadrien. Hadrien fought for Hadrien and they got another month. Soon enough that month passed and Hadrien was on his own, back at home and out of insurance.
One day, Scott Pensivy, (S.P.O.R.T.S. Physical Therpay) who heard about Hadrien from USPTA pro Ken Shioi was introduced to Hadrien. Scott offered to rehab Hadrien for free. From that point forward 4 to 7 hours a day Hadrien was fighting for his mobility life. In the pool, in the weight room, at his home, on the track, his effort seemed tireless.
After 8 months of hard rehab, Hadrien could "shuffle" around. One year later, determined to play tennis again, Hadrien played one match in our elite junior tennis league. He won. That was about a year ago.
Just weeks ago we had the elite league draft again, and this year we narrowed it down to the top 48 players in Nevada. No one chose Hadrien. Earlier that week I was at Lorenzi park, my local tennis court where Hadrien and his father run the tennis shop. I was intrigued by his attitude, his wisdom. He told me about the 4 books he reads a week for fun, how much the adversity has made him stronger as a person. He shared with me the insights only a person who has experienced tragedy can understand. He is wise.
For the Elite League, I am captain of the "White" team, who has historically won. With confidence, I picked Hadrien as my 6th and final player.
Last Friday, still "shuffling around", Hadrien played #2 doubles with Brian Foley and lost 8-2. I almost regretted my pick. I was worried he would get discouraged and down on himself. He had a very hard time bending to get the drop ball returns these top juniors play in doubles. He was struggling.
But as fate would have it, the teams were all tied bringing it down to the singles matches. Hadrien's match was the last one on, the deciding factor.
After losing the first set 7-5, he trailed in the second but forced a tiebreaker. After winning the second set, he forced a 10-point tiebreaker. With a crowd larger than any other junior match, he proceeded to fight in front of us like he had been doing so quietly behind the scenes for the last 3 years. Barely able to move, a body that requires 5 times the effort to go side to side than our own, he went down 7-3. Unwilling to give up he came back 6-7, then 6-8, then 8-8. The crowd held their breath when Hadrien was down 9-8 match point and his opponent serving.
Hadrien returned the biggest down the line winner I have ever seen. The crowd went wild. People that didn't even know Hadrien, parents whose children had already finished, stopped by to see this action.
Tied 9-9. Hadrien loses the next point, match point again against Hadrien. He serves an ace. This was big. He wins the next point, up 11-10. The next point had 4 or 5 rallies and suddenly Hadrien wins the point! His friends and fans were so happy to see such a sweet victory.
I consoled his opponent who felt badly about such a close loss. I explained that Hadrien had become a very special individual who went through so much and has done so with amazing grace. Some wins and losses are just fate and this one rings clear.
Hadrien Saperstein is now a junior in high school with all A's, still wants to go to the Naval Academy and is moving closer to his dream of playing for Palo Verde again. His parents just rented a house in that zip code on purpose so Hadrien can fulfill the dream he has worked so hard for. He is also a player at the "NO QUIT" Tennis Academy at Lorenzi Park. He's someone who has lived up to that sentiment more than anyone I've ever had the pleasure to meet.
A huge thank you goes out to all the parents, players and people who came to the aid of Hadrien and his family. So many supported him and the fundraiser that was held to help offset his hospital bills. It was a proud day for this tennis community when we all rose to the occasion to support such a great child and his commitment to the good fight!