Love and tennis on wheels


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Jim Rackett is the laughing guy in the wheelchair who plays a mean game of tennis. Traci Rackett is his beautiful, bubbly wife, who doesn't.

Theirs is quite a love story.

The Racketts are the heart of the Southern Ohio Wheelchair Tennis Club, which plays at Sawyer Point in a program supported by the Cincinnati Recreation Commission.

Twice a week, they drive from Springboro to Cincinnati, hauling another player and a stack of extra chairs. Jim coaches while Traci helps out.

She walks. Her husband doesn't. You can't help thinking: Here's a woman who could have had anybody, and she chose him.

Or maybe it was the other way around.

Eleven years ago, Jim injured his spinal cord in a fall, leaving him paralyzed from the chest down.

Right away, he started at Wright State University with electrical muscle stimulation, the same therapy that has helped the actor Christopher Reeve.

The staff included one Traci Humble. Jim, an incorrigible flirt, started calling her "Spacey Traci."

"He'd come through and say, "Hey gorgeous, how you doing?' " Traci recalls.

Only certain single men can get away with lines containing the word "gorgeous." Jim, 36, happens to be one of them.

"He just has this charisma," says Traci, 32. "People like to be around him."

Six years went by. Both dated others. Then one Friday at the lab, Traci and her colleagues invited Jim to a movie.

Soon there were regular group outings. At Pizza Hut one night, Jim took Traci's hand under the table. She got butterflies.

He drove her to her car. She wondered if he would kiss her.

Let's put it this way: Is a tennis ball round?

Traci never thought about the chair, she says. He was just Jim, who brought her flowers for no reason, worked as an industrial engineer and drove himself to tennis tournaments.

He was fearless, too. On an early date, they tried jet-skiing, and Jim startled Traci by immediately throwing himself off, just to make sure he could get back on.

"You have to be comfortable with yourself," he says. "If you're looking for somebody else to make you feel better, whether you have a spinal cord injury or not, you're probably not going to send the right vibe."

They married four years ago. They're planning - and able - to have children someday.

For now, tennis is their passion. They invite any and all wheelchair users to join them at Sawyer Point by calling (937) 748-9058 or e-mailing Racketts1@juno.com.

Jim loves the sport partly because wheelchair users can play against the able-bodied.

"What's so neat about tennis is that it breaks down all these barriers," he says.

He should know. He's an expert.

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