WHSV Sports Presents 2015: Jon Fried - 15-Love

Published: Dec. 21, 2015 at 7:48 PM EST
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In 1962 Jon Fried was brought into this world already down by a set.

This past summer, he competed in his fourth Special Olympics World games in Los Angeles. A feat doctors said could never happen. But what they didn't really know is Jon was really up 15-love.

"I dream about tennis everyday. I'm practicing with my coach and working out with my trainer,” said 53-year-old Jon Fried of Crozet.

Tennis is life's great equalizer for Jon who was born with an intellectual disability.

"My husband noticed something didn't seem right in the hospital,” said Jon's mom Barbara Fried. “He didn't seem to be moving right, not like other babies."

"When we took Jonathan to Georgetown University where they evaluated him, they said he's never going to walk, or talk. You should put him in an institution and don't get pregnant,” she added.

Jon functions at a level ranging between first and third graders. He also suffers from a degenerative foot condition and has vision problems.

"Our eyes can process things together. Our brain can see what's in our left and right eye and makes it one image. He sees things through his left and then his right eye separately, " said David Luedeka, physical therapist at the Fried Center for the Advancement of Potential at Innisfree Village.

Jon picked up his first racket when he was 10-year-old.

"Soccer wasn't my sport, so I decided to play tennis,” said Jon who practices daily at Innisfree where he lives.

"My husband and I started taking lessons, added Barbara. “His method of teach was back, take the racket back, step, hit. It was very basic but it was perfect for Jon. Back, step, hit, he got it."

"One of the demonstrations, sometimes, of the intellectual disability is doing the same thing over, and over again and when he was an infant he would bang pots and pans forever. But it worked very well just hitting it against the wall because he would just keep hitting and hitting and he didn't stop."

Jon's passion for the game has taken him to the highest level of competition. He competed in his first Special Olympic World Games in 1995.

"I remember just my stomach being in knots the first few games because he was the consummate gentleman,” said Barbara. “We'd have to keep telling him, 'Jon, you can be friends afterwords, play like a tiger.'"

In 2007 he won gold.

"I was proud of myself,” Jon said.

"Tennis is John's genius,” said Luedeka. “If you knew how disabled he was and you watch him play it really is the definition of a miracle."

In L.A. Jon chases gold once again after grabbing silver four-years-ago in Greece.

"I'm not sure Jon Fried feels any sort of pressure or nervousness at all,” said Jonathan Sarosiek, Jon's tennis coach. “But when we were in the stands watching that match I was probably the most nervous person outside his mom."

Twenty years after his first world games, Jon returns for his fourth competition.

He's the first Virginian to do that.

"I've got to practice and practice until i get it right,” he said.

It's a feat that, 53-years-ago, maybe seemed impossible. But maybe not.

"What does optimism mean?” asked Barbara. “Someone tells you something totally awful and there is nothing you can do about it, your instinct may be something totally opposite and say yes I can."