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Living his dream - Conner Stroud playing tennis at 2021 Paralympic Games

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The #2 ranked US Men's Paralympics Tennis Team member Conner Stroud boards a plane to Tokyo after spending a few days at the national campus in Orlando, Florida where he trained with his team. Opening ceremonies were Aug. 24 and Conner expects to compete

Conner Stroud, 21, of Rutherfordton is living his dream. He's competing in the 2021 Paralympic Games in Tokyo, expecting to be on the court in the next day or so. He is ranked #2 on the USA Men's Tennis Team and joined his team and all the other Paralympic athletes in opening ceremonies on August 24.

"I have waited for this moment for many, many years and lots of time and effort has gone into making this dream happen," Conner said recently. "It is a great honor to be able to represent my country in one of the biggest competitions in the world. I would like to thank everyone who has supported me along this journey and a special thank you to my sponsors @wilsontennis @per4max," Conner said in an online interview while competing in a tournament earlier this summer in Switzerland.

Conner said when he received the confirmation he was going to the Paralympic Games as a member of the USA Team he couldn't believe his dream was coming true.

"It has been a dream of mine for a very long time to compete at the biggest stage possible and to represent my country at the same time," he said.

In addition to Conner there is one other USA man, Casey Ratzlaff from Kansas, competing in the men's division. There are three women competing for USA from California, Hawaii, and Kentucky.

There are also two quad players competing and they are from California and Arizona. "The quad players have a higher disability and have limited use with one or both of their hands," Conner explained. "They might have to use tape to keep the racquet in their hands while playing."

Conner reflected on his first win at age 13 where he was playing in a tournament in Hilton Head, South Carolina.

"I was playing in the C division which is the lowest division offered at tournaments. I ended up winning the C division at my very first tournament and started playing the B division after that. I now play the open division in tournaments to earn points and those rankings are the world ranking system.

Conner said there are a lot of factors that played roles in getting him to the place where he is today.

"My parents (Dewey and Rita Stroud) have always encouraged me and pushed me to better myself. My mom actually talked me into going to a wheelchair tennis clinic in Asheville hosted by Robin Burton with OPAF (Orthotic and Prosthetic Assistance Fund)," Conner said.

The clinic instructor was Paralympian Karin Korb.

"I was instantly intrigued with the game and I owe a lot to Karin and Robin for helping me get started. Fast forward almost 10 years now and lots of time and training has gone into my journey of getting here.

Conner said he has faced a few challenges in wheelchair tennis.

"I would say at the start, I could not maneuver the wheelchair very well and it took a while for me to get comfortable with the movement of the chair. I hadn't used a wheelchair much before since I mainly walked and I had never been in a sports wheelchair before I started playing wheelchair tennis," Conner said.

Another challenge for Conner was being away from home for long periods of time. He often does three tournaments in a row and is away for as many as three weeks.

"I love being able to travel and see the world but it sometimes can be hard to be away from friends and family and all the comforts of being at home," Conner said.

"The biggest joy in my tennis is getting to meet many different people from all around the world and see many different places. I like how I can experience different cultures through people and places. Tennis has brought me many new friendships and memories that I will never forget," Conner said.

"It really means a lot to me to know that my hometown is behind me and rooting for me. My family means everything to me and they are the ones that make me strive for better each day. My mom and dad, and my brother Taylor and sister Whitney are my biggest supporters. I could not do it without them."

Conner was born with proximal femoral focal deficiency (PFFD). As a result, he was born without femurs, hips, ankles or knees. At the age of two, Stroud had surgery that amputated the front part of each of his feet. Two years later, he began to play tennis, instructed by his father, Dewey, a former letterman at Clemson University.

By the age of 13, Conner decided it was time to make the transition to wheelchair tennis. "At the beginning, it was really about learning how to move the chair," says Stroud. "I had knowledge about the strokes, but I didn't know how to move my wheelchair around the court quickly and effectively."

With his winning smile, Conner thanks everyone who has supported him and continue to support him on his journey.

Like the rest of the world, Conner's parents and family will be watching the Paralympics at home, disappointed they couldn't go, but more than excited Conner has attained his dream.

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