Maize-native goes under radar on way to No. 1 ranking
Two of the best wheelchair tennis players in the nation are right in Wichitans' backyards. Many in Wichita are familiar with Nick Taylor--a five-time Paralympic medalist, but most are unfamiliar with his protege, Casey Ratzlaff. Taylor wants to change that.
Eight years ago, Taylor was ready to find the next best player in the Air Capital. He and his organization, Wheelchair Sports (now called Wichita Adaptive Sports) held an adaptive athletes sports event at Maize South High School. An unassuming Casey Ratzlaff was the only kid to show up to his tennis clinic. But that was all he needed.
"'You're just going to have to trust me on this'," Taylor told the rest of his team. "'I think that one might be really worthwhile'. And I watched him go out and I watched him hit balls for about two minutes and I instantly saw it."
Ratzlaff remembers that day well. It was the day he met his mentor, as well as his newfound passion.
"It was just amazing to do what I never thought I'd be able to do in my life," he said. "So it took a while for me to get off the court and I've been stuck with it ever since. Nick has been with me since day one, guiding me along the way."
Taylor picked up a racquet around the same age. Now, at 38, he has a deep trophy case including five Paralympic medals and 11 grand slam doubles titles.
"This gave me an avenue to compete," Taylor said. "I used to hate the word 'inspire,' but it's grown on me and I get it now."
He's inspired many young athletes throughout his 24-year career, but none more than Casey.
"It's hard to say where I'd be without Nick being there for me in the beginning, but I can say I wouldn't be where I am today," he said.
He wouldn't be far without his other coach, Justin DeSanto, either.
"Getting to coach wheelchair was a big shock for me and what I had to learn and then teach," DeSanto said.
As an able-bodied man, he had to learn how to play in a wheelchair before teaching it. He has coached men and women at the collegiate level, and is currently the assistant coach for the Wichita State men's tennis team. He has never, however, coached wheelchair tennis until he met Casey Ratzlaff and Nick Taylor.
Taylor is a volunteer assistant coach at Wichita State, after graduating from the school years ago. That's where he and DeSanto met, and trained each other in this new sport.
Now, the three are inseparable. DeSanto, Taylor, and the Wichita State tennis team are vital in the development of local adaptive athletes.
"My ultimate dream would be, I'd love for Wichita, Kansas to be the pipeline for the US National Team," Taylor said. "We've already got two guys that live here. I've already been to the Paralympics, and [Casey] will be at the next one, I guarantee you. I don't know another city in the united states that can tout that."
Ratzlaff has dreams, too.
"I dream of being number one in the world and the number one player of all time. I think that's definitely possible," he said. "Right now, it's just small goals. Someday, top of the world, I want to be there. So yeah, that's the ultimate goal."
Ratzlaff will play his next tournament at the World Team Cup Finals with Team USA at the end of May in the Netherlands.