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USTA Eastern Section: Vander Schaaf's Given Courage Award
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From big events to results of recently-played tournaments to features on players, tournament directors and officials, every USTA section around the country has a lot to highlight.

My goal with this article series is to give them a platform to showcase what is taking place in their section and inform our readers.

This week, we feature an interview conducted by Scott Sode, the Content & Communications Manager at USTA Eastern:

Gavin Vander Schaaf was recently named the inaugural recipient of USTA Eastern’s Junior Courage Award, an honor bestowed upon a tennis player or advocate who has demonstrated an ability to overcome adversity and display strength and optimism. At 5 years old, Vander Schaaf was diagnosed with Chiari Malformation, a condition in which parts of the brain extend into the spine. Vander Schaaf underwent multiple brain surgeries and at points in his childhood needed a wheelchair to get around. Now a sophomore at Westhampton Beach High School, he currently competes for the varsity tennis team. We talked to the East Quogue, New York native about his health journey and how a love of the sport helped him get through some tough moments in his life.

SS: What can you tell us about your experience being diagnosed with Chiari Malformation as a child?

Vander Schaaf: Chiari is a condition in which parts of the brain extend into the spinal canal, resulting in debilitating headaches, back pain, leg pain, dizziness, and more. I always had terrible headaches daily since I can remember. However, I rarely brought it up because pain was all I knew. I figured every other kid’s head felt the same as mine did, so I chose to push through. I ended up having two brain surgeries, one at the age of 5, the next at 6. Complications, coupled with being diagnosed with central and obstructive sleep apnea, Lyme disease, celiac and severe vitamin deficiency causing painful neuropathy that still lingers, all put my body at war with itself. My Chiari headaches improved somewhat but many of my symptoms worsened. Contact sports were off the table. Even running at recess caused excruciating head pain.

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Page updated on Tuesday, April 20, 2021
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