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'Formidable' Fabrizio overcomes disability

By John Kovach

Wednesday, October 17, 2001

Theresa Fabrizio was born without a left arm, but she developed into a solid tennis player.
WARREN -- There is a moral to Theresa Fabrizio's development as a tennis player, to wit: Where there is a will, there is a way -- through perseverance.
Her achievement of playing for the Warren Kennedy High girls tennis team despite having only one arm and the positive manner in which she carries herself should be an encouraging example to others who want to turn obstacles into stepping stones.
Born without her left arm, Fabrizio of Warren used sheer determination to become a serious player and the No. 4 singles and doubles member and captain of the JFK team this season as a senior.
She also plays tennis at the Warren Olympic Club and Avalon Tennis Club, competes in tournaments sanctioned by the United States Tennis Association and the Trumbull County Tennis Association, attended a tennis clinic at Hilton Head, S.C., and wants to play in college.
Positive demeanor: "She deals with her handicap in such a positive way [that] when you play her, you very quickly forget that she has only one hand," said Paul Newlove, Fabrizio's personal coach at the Avalon Tennis Club since she was a sophomore. "She doesn't use it to get sympathy. And she is kind of a role model. Kids can look at her and say. 'If she can do it, I can do it.' "
Fabrizio has found a way to play the game effectively over the years while overcoming her handicap and has evolved into a formidable player with promise.
"She has a tremendous forehand. That would be her weapon," said second-year Kennedy coach Bette Bridenbaugh. "She sets the ball on top of the racket and tosses the ball in the air with the racket and then she serves."
And in order to deliver a back-handed shot that generally is returned with two hands, "She has to make sure she gets turned around really well, so that her hips and shoulders are in position to give her more power."
Good teacher: Linda Fabrizio, Theresa's mother, credits Newlove for helping her daughter find solutions to her handicap on the court.
"He has been fabulous with her. He has taught her many techniques and basically works through all of the situations she will encounter using only one arm," said Linda, who along with husband Randy got Theresa involved in tennis at a young age, teaching and competing with her.
"We started this as a recreational type of thing, and once she got to Warren JFK her freshman year, she thought she would try out for the team," Linda explained. "The JFK coach at the time, Joe Marino, gave her a lot of encouragement, and that helped her to stick to it. He was a blessing."
Fabrizio said she decided to play tennis at Kennedy because, "I wanted to get involved during my high school years, and I figured it was something that I could try, at least. I had always played tennis with my parents, but I was 14 when I first started to play on the high school team."
Challenges: She said her biggest challenge was "learning how to serve," since she had no left hand to throw the ball into the air.
"I kind of started to develop [the serve] by myself and with my parents, and then Coach Newlove began to help me.
"I put the ball on the thread of the racket right above the handle on the open-throat part, and I toss it up and just hit it," she said. "We developed this process and Newlove helped it along. It's just a matter of practicing to get it down pat. I have hit hundreds of buckets of balls practicing."
Developing a backhand without a left arm was another challenge.
"My backhand wasn't very good, but it came along," Fabrizio said. "I had to figure out which backhand was best for me. I tried the top spin, flat backhand and the slice. The slice was best for me.
"The slice is cutting down on the ball so that I'm bringing the racket from top to bottom," she explained. "When it hits the other side, it will die down and not bounce high."
Compensation: Fabrizio tries to compensate for not swinging with two hands by "swinging harder -- and that's about it. I have to turn a little bit more, but that's it," she said. "Turning almost always to the side so that my right shoulder is almost facing the net."
Her high school career nearly complete, Fabrizio is pondering the next step to intercollegiate competition.
"I would like to play tennis in college, but I haven't made up my mind," she said.
Newlove believes she could do it.
"I think she has a chance at a smaller college," he said.
College tennis or not, Fabrizio will still play.
"She probably plays tennis seven days a week," said Newlove.
And that's because, as Linda said, "We started at the Warren Olympic Club, and we started to bat the ball back and forth, [and] she grew to love it."