Even at the age of ‘, he was an athletic kid," said Merill Levine of her son, Dylan.
At the age of 3, Dylan was diagnosed with a condition called fibrous dysplasia. The chronic bone disease, which is caused by a defective gene, makes Dylan’s legs prone to breaking.
Neverthless, said his mother, "he was always very athletic, always playing baseball, always doing something. It got to the point where he couldn’t do what he wanted to do any more; he had to stop doing Little League. He was unhappy, so I started researching things he could do," Levine said.
Levine came across sled hockey. Players play a real game of hockey, only from a sled instead of skates. Through sled hockey, Dylan met other children who were active in other sports.
"I started wheelchair tennis when I was 9. I began traveling around the country [to play] when I was 11 or 1′," said Dylan.
Dylan, a high school sophomore who lives in Paramus, is now the top-ranked junior wheelchair tennis player in the nation. He recently represented the United States in several tournaments.
"It’s all travel. I just got back from Sweden for a tournament. I went to France earlier this year. I went to Brazil. I just got back from California, from an international-run camp for juniors, and it also counts for an international tournament. I won the tournament there. It’s kind of cool," he said. But he isn’t finished traveling, and rattles a few more locations off the top of his head.
"I’m going to Canada and St. Louis toward the end of August and South Carolina in the beginning of September," Dylan adds. "So yeah, it’s a lot of traveling."
In addition, he will be competing and representing the United States in Australia in the fall in a basketball tournament.
Dylan is proud to represent the Unitied States; he’s also proud to be a Jewish athlete.
"It’s just nice to say it sometimes. It’s a little different at times," he said. "A lot of times when I go to other countries, there’s no one that’s Jewish."
This year, Dylan faced a new breed of competitors. As a member of Paramus High School’s junior varsity tennis team, he competed against able-bodied athletes.
Although some of his opponents and teammates may not have known what to expect at first, everyone on the team was very accepting.
"Everyone on the team was very open to it," said Dylan. "It was great. I didn’t lose a match."
Being in a wheelchair doesn’t have a significant effect on the game for Dylan.
"The racket’s in your dominant hand. You push like normally. The sport’s completely the same except we get two bounces just because we can’t move as fast. You still move both hands, you can usually use your thumb and the racket on one side and push normally with your other hand," Dylan said. "It takes a little getting used to but it’s not that bad."
For the Levine family, it was nice to have Dylan competing close to home. For the past three years, he has traveled to most of his tournaments alone.
"They come when they can, pretty much. There aren’t too many opportunities," Dylan said. "There are only a few local tournaments and they’re not really that big."
"That was awesome. It was really cool to watch him play against able-bodied players and beat them," said Levine. "I was very proud of him. It’s a really big accomplishment. It’s the first time Paramus High School has ever had a disabled athlete."
Dylan has other wheelchair tennis goals and plans to continue well after high school.
He plays for the United States’ Juniors’ Team, which is for players age 17 and under. The year they turn 18 is the last year they are allowed to play in that age bracket. Dylan’s next goal is to make the Men’s Team.
"I’ve got lots of offers from colleges for scholarships, so I’m looking into that," he said. "I don’t know at this point if it can become a career because in the United States, the money you win at tournaments is nice, but you have to do something else on the side to make a living."
But while he’s still in high school, Dylan hopes to make the varsity tennis team. "I played one varsity match this year," he said. "But only time will tell."
The family has set up an account to defray Dylan’s traveling expenses with Wheelchair Sports USA (www.wsusa.org). Those interested in contributing can write to Wheelchair Sports, USA, P.O. Box 5’66, Kendall Park, NJ 088’4, noting on the check Attn: Dylan Levine.