Legally blind tennis player finds success in Fulton Special Olympics program

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FULTON - Although legally blind, Fulton Special Olympics tennis player Jesse competes with enthusiasm in a high demanding sport for hand-eye coordination.

"He has a higher learning curve and a lot setbacks that a lot of people might just say, 'I can't do it'", Ken Petterson, founder of Fulton's Special Olympics program said. "And for Jesse, it was, 'I can, I will, and I want to be on that team.'"

Jesse started competing last year in skills competitions opposed to playing against another opponent.

Special Olympics Missouri says skills competitions "allow athletes to train and compete in basic tennis skills."

Although this last season Jesse did not face an opponent across the net, Petterson says they are committed to getting him to the point of playing in a full match of tennis.

Jesse's involvement as a tennis player with Special Olympics Missouri started a few years ago.

According to Petterson, who is not only the founder of Fulton's program, but also the main coach, Jesse just started showing up to practices.

"With Jesse, he kind of forced his way, to be frankly honest, onto the team," he said. "He would show up with one of the other athletes that is a unified partner with my son and he said, 'Hey, I want to do this.'"

And Jesse competes with a never-give-up attitude.

"I pushed myself to the limit," Jesse said. "I've been doing that since I was in high school."

"I pushed and pushed until I got better," he continued.

Petterson says Jesse's attitude and approach to competing in a sport where the odds are stacked against him is rare in an athlete at any level - amateur or professional - and he wouldn’t trade that for anything.

"I would take Jesse over a lot of the pro athletes I see on TV because Jesse has commitment," he said.

"Not only did he show me that he had the initiative and the will to learn the game and to get better," Petterson continued. "But he's also kind of a pioneer in the sense that just because he has a visual impairment doesn’t mean that he can't do it."

But while Jesse has had success in his two years playing tennis, he is also tearing down walls that stop others from advancing in the sport.

"In the whole history of Special Olympics Missouri, he's only the second athlete that is legally blind that has a visual impairment to ever compete in tennis," Petterson said. "He's showing others that are legally blind and have visual impairments that they too can do it."

For more ways on how to support Fulton or Missouri Special Olympics visit its website.

Another way to raise money for Missouri Special Olympics is through the 2020 Polar Plunge upcoming across mid-Missouri in February and March.

More information about next year's Polar Plunge can be found here.

Past Polar Plunges have been successful in raising upwards of $54,000.

Editor's note: Jesse's last name has been omitted at the request of his coach to protect his identity.