Would-Be Tennis Ballgirl With Prosthesis Shows Athleticism

Denise Castelli, who lost her right leg due to complications after breaking it during a 2008 college softball game, can’t see why she shouldn’t be a ball girl at the U.S. Open.

“My goal here is to try and change the way everyone thinks of disabilities,” Castelli, who has a prosthesis, said last week in an interview during tryouts at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York. “Everyone thinks it’s crippling, and it’s not.”

On June 23, Castelli, 25, of Netcong, New Jersey, was among the 500 people trying out for 80 positions as ball girls or boys for the two-week tournament in New York that begins Aug. 29. The first amputee ballperson was Kelly Bruno in 2008.

Castelli said she was a senior at the University of New Haven when she broke her leg sliding into second base. She developed an infection, then further complications that forced doctors to amputate it.

“I don’t think I ever let it mentally disable me, although it physically disabled me,” said Castelli, an office worker for Monmouth Junction, New Jersey-based High Grade Beverage. ‘I was determined to get my leg and do something with it.”

If she gets the U.S. Open job, she will be paid the standard hourly wage of $7.75 each rookie receives for chasing down tennis balls after each point, said Eric Schuster, the U.S. Tennis Association’s communications manager.

Making the Cut

Last week during the first tryout, she was asked to chase, retrieve and throw tennis balls on one of the outer courts. Three former ballpersons looked on with clipboards, taking notes of each candidate’s performance.

“We are looking for someone who is a good athlete, people that can run quickly, have good throwing arms, good agility, good footwork,” said Assistant Ballperson Director Cathie Delaney, 45, who has worked at the U.S. Open for 18 years.

Should Castelli make the cut -- the candidates will find out July 20, said Delaney -- it will be more than memorable for her, said Kristin Ogdon, who has done it for 19 years.

“This is the greatest job in the world,” said Ogdon, 33, who works as a marketer for Microsoft Corp. “I’m up close, in all the action of the tennis, and I wouldn’t miss it.”

Castelli said for her, it’s not only about the tennis.

“I can be an athlete after amputation,” she said.

To contact the reporter on this story:

Lydia Winkler in New York at lwinkler1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Sillup at msillup@bloomberg.net

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