A Westhampton Beach High School student with a congenital brain defect has been recognized for displaying strength and optimism on the tennis court.
Gavin Vander Schaaf, a sophomore, has received the Profiles in Courage Award from the U.S. Tennis Association's Eastern Section for his battle with Chiari malformation, a condition in which the brain tissues push down into the spinal canal. He has had two surgeries since being diagnosed at the age of 5 and has chronic pain and immune system deficiencies.
Vander Schaaf is a member of his school's varsity tennis team and has participated on the track and volleyball teams — as well as on the cross country, tennis and volleyball teams at Westhampton Beach Middle School.
"For several years after my second surgery, with my quality of life nonexistent, I did not run, I did not play video games. I slept slightly upright and reclined my seat in the car, and I used a neck brace and many other adjustments to keep my brain from jostling," Vander Schaaf said. "Finally, in sixth grade, I was strong enough to participate in adaptive physical education."
Vander Schaaf also volunteers teaching tennis to children and is working on a beach volleyball fundraiser to benefit youth with catastrophic illnesses. In addition, he intends to form a nonprofit youth development group for under-resourced children through a partnership with a chapter of National Junior Tennis and Learning.