Introduced to wheelchair tennis after an auto accident, Julia Dorsett is a
quick study
By Shandel Richardson
Special correspondent

April 1, 2003

KEY BISCAYNE · The analysis began once Julia Dorsett parked her wheelchair
courtside.

On this day, she was observing a tennis match in the Nasdaq-100 Open. She
broke down the players' shots, their movements, their tendencies, all of the
action taking place.

Her knowledge of the game was impressive for someone who wasn't too fond of
tennis for much of her life, for someone who began playing only after a car
accident left her paralyzed from the waist down.

"I never really liked tennis," Dorsett said. "I was always into team sports.
But I tried it and I loved it. I got good really fast."

So good that Dorsett, who has played for only five years, is the 21st-ranked
wheelchair player in the world and will compete in the Florida Open at Patch
Reef Park in Boca Raton. The tournament, which is the largest in the world
with more than 200 players from 20 countries, begins Wednesday.

Dorsett hopes to avoid a repeat of last year, when she lost in the first
round. A solid showing could bring her closer to her goal of making the 2004
Paralympic team, which takes only the top four players. She is training with
coach Jay Bosworth, who has worked with Ivan Lendl.

"She has a strong dedication to some of her goals over the next few years,"
Bosworth said "She's really focused on what she wants to do

Said Dorsett: "I think I'm one spot away. I'm playing tennis every day,
training every day. The season goes from April until October, and I'm always
out there. I can't say I play just for fun, because I want to win."

Dorsett, who grew up in West Chester, Pa., but now lives in Boca Raton,
played field hockey her freshman year at Ithaca College in New York.

She was majoring in communications with plans of being a photojournalist
before her life was altered Dec. 23, 1987. She was heading south on U.S. 202
in Pennsylvania to visit a friend in Delaware and came upon a car that had
slowed down. Dorsett failed to react in time and flipped her Isuzu Trooper
several times. The accident severely injured her spinal cord, eliminating
all movement in her legs.

Dorsett, 34, can joke about the incident now, poking fun at SUVs and slow
drivers. But it wasn't always a laughing matter. Christmas had become a time
of pain instead of joy.

"It probably took me three or four years to enjoy Christmas again," Dorsett
said. "I would always think about it."

After the accident, Dorsett missed just two semesters before returning to
school. She refused to let the setback control the way she lived. But she
also realized how quickly life had changed. In college, she was the only
student who used a wheelchair.

"I looked at [returning to college] as another challenge, something else to
tackle." Dorsett said. "But when I got back, I had no one to relate to. It
was tough."

The struggles were eased when Dorsett was introduced to tennis while at a
rehabilitation center in Philadelphia in 1998. A friend told her it would
help her meet others in wheelchairs who were interested in athletics. Before
long, Dorsett had learned the circular movements of wheelchair tennis and
began playing competitively. She won the B-division of the U.S Open her
first year, earning the most improved player award.

Dorsett has played open division since moving to Boca Raton in 1999, but an
elbow injury kept her out for nearly two years. Fully healed, Dorsett is
calling this season sort of a "comeback tour."

"I really don't know where I'd be without tennis," Dorsett said. "I'd
probably be a lot fatter now. Tennis gave me good direction and some
positive goals for sure."
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