By Emily J. Minor
When he was a kid back in Fort Wayne, Ind., limping along all of a sudden, out of the blue, forced to give up all the sports he loved, Noah Yablong never dreamed it would come to this. Never.
“Once I got diagnosed, it all pretty much just stopped,” says Yablong, 23, who has a not-so-little something called Legg Calve Pertheshen. “Before that, I played everything — basketball, baseball, soccer, tennis, golf, swimming. The whole shebang.”
But when he was 10, Yablong was diagnosed with the rare and degenerative hip disease that stops blood flow to the bone, eventually causing the bone to die.
It got to the point where the young kid who was so fast that coaches on the other team would issue a heads-up when Noah Yablong came up to bat couldn’t even walk without excruciating pain. Today, he’s in a wheelchair, able to walk very, very short distances.
That’s the bad news.
The good news? Here’s a kid who made lemonade from lemons. Big time. And this July, Yablong, the son of Nan and Jeffrey Yablong of Ocean Ridge, will represent the United States in the Paralympics wheelchair tennis competition.
Go ahead. Take a peek on YouTube. Wheelchair tennis is pretty awesome.
From his chair, Yablong can deliver a killer serve. His backhand is stellar. And in his special chair with the tilted wheels and stabilizing mechanism, he can turn so quickly and accurately, predicting the path of the ball as though he has some sort of odd intuition, that one of the sport’s best coaches snatched him up when he was just a kid — Kari Yerg-Reddy.
“We used to send him down here and he’d spend summers with her,” says his mother. “She recognized that he had talent, and was a nice kid.”
Noah and his family moved to Ocean Ridge about two years ago.
So ever since middle school, he’s worked out with the best — eventually giving up his other love, wheelchair basketball, to focus on tennis. In 2007, Yerg-Reddy was named United States Professional Tennis Association Coach of the Year and has been a World Team Cup Coach seven times.
Noah Yablong said he got the call that he’d made the Olympic team a few weeks ago. Indeed, the phone roused him from a sound morning sleep. Bigwigs don’t worry about time zones when there’s good news to deliver. Now he’s training like a maniac, more than 30 hours a week, intense cardio and strength, going at it in the mornings, taking the afternoons off, and then going back for more at night.
Oh, and one other thing. He just graduated from the University of Arizona with a degree in mechanical engineering and engineering management. His mom said they chose Arizona because it had the best adaptive sports program.
For Noah Yablong, living with a disability is second nature by now, just part of who he is.
Indeed, he’s always had an interest in understanding disabilities. When he was a kid, before he was even diagnosed, he used to spend hours with a best buddy at the Turnstone Center for Disabled Children and Adults in Fort Wayne. His friend had muscular dystrophy, and Yablong would go to the center and work out. Once he got over the shock of the diagnosis, he knew he’d be able to eventually get back into sports.
But he admits he never dreamed it would come to this: London. The Olympics. The whole family there to support him. “We’re breaking the bank,” says his mom.
Noah Yablong will be overseas for about three weeks in July.
“I generally don’t get nervous, which I guess is kind of a blessing,” he says. “But once I get there and get on the court, that’s when it will hit me.”
For information about how to help with Noah Yablong’s journey to London, go to his Facebook page and click on Journey to the 2012 Paralympic Games.