- Associated Press - Saturday, May 2, 2015

BRADENTON, Fla. (AP) - At the IMG Academy, the most famous tennis program in the world, teaching pros have never seen a player quite like Nisha Rajamohan.

The senior from Connecticut was born without a fully developed right arm, so she uses a prosthetic limb to compete with college-bound classmates. She even hits a two-handed backhand.

Rajamohan never thought of herself as handicapped. She always wanted to try new things.

“From a young age, my parents wanted me to be outgoing,” she says. “They didn’t want me to be shy about my arm.”

After visiting IMG for summer programs, the 17-year-old earned a scholarship for her senior year in high school. Training in Florida has paid off. In the fall, she will play Division III tennis at the Renssalaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y.

Rajamohan remains thin - 5-foot-6, 105 pounds - but she has the muscled left arm of someone who admires Rafael Nadal and hits a big forehand.

Her smile is big, too. She wears a gold bangle on her wrist that was an early graduation present.

Over the weekend in Bradenton, Rajamohan hosted a charity tennis tournament to benefit Shriners Hospitals for Children. It’s a break from the grind of training at IMG. More fun, less pressure.

Paul Forsythe, a pro at IMG, loves to talk about Rajamohan. He calls her an ambassador for the tennis program.

“Just a unique kid,” he says. “And she’s a great example for other kids who might be complaining about their racket or this and that. It’s great for IMG. We’re not just about the Nishikoris and Sharapovas. We’re about preparing kids for life.”

Rajamohan hits and runs and sweats like every tennis player on the court. If she wore a long-sleeved shirt, a bystander might not realize she has a prosthesis.

Her two-handed backhand looks routine.

“It’s incredible,” Forsythe says. “She’s able to swing and follow the stroke all the way through. We never even thought about changing it.”

Rajamohan’s parents are Indian-Americans. Her dad is a molecular biologist. He mom works at a bank.

They led their only child into all sorts of interests and activities.

She swam. She danced. She played basketball. She performed one-handed pieces on the piano and learned how to hold a bow and play the violin.

Rajamohan was born with a partial right arm, a condition called “lower limb reduction.” At 6 months old, she was fitted for her first prosthetic arm at a Shriners Hospital.

“She never held anything back,” says her mother, Shanthi Rajamohan, in Waterford, Connecticut. “She was lucky that she was surrounded by people who helped her.”

As a teenager, Rajamohan began to focus on tennis.

When she got the scholarship offer from IMG, her parents decided they couldn’t refuse, even though it meant their daughter would be leaving home.

“That was huge - huge,” her mother says. “I had jitters and a lot of anxiety. I kept telling myself that next year she’ll be going to college anyway, so this was just a year early.”

At IMG, Nisha had to blend in with athletes from across the country and around the world. This kind of thing has always been easy for her.

A couple weeks ago, she went to the school prom with friends. She wore a coral pink dress she bought at JCPenney. She applied glittery nail polish to the hand of her prosthetic arm.

Rodrigo Meade, a soccer player from Arkansas, knows Rajamohan from psychology class. As the only one-armed athlete at IMG, she stands out on campus. Her sense of humor helps put people at ease.

“She makes jokes about her arm,” Meade says, laughing. “She says she does the best robot dance ever. I have to admit it’s pretty good.”

Rajamohan plans to study biomedical engineering in college. At IMG, she’s taking psychology, chemistry, calculus, environmental science and literature.


Information from: Sarasota (Fla.) Herald-Tribune, https://www.heraldtribune.com

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