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A nine-year-old tennis player who was born with a congenital limb difference has said she is “very confident” on the court after a prosthetic was made to help her serve the ball.
Joanie Melady, from South Oxfordshire, was born with a congenital limb difference, meaning that her left arm did not fully develop before birth.
Having a talent and passion for tennis since she was five, Joanie struggled to toss and serve the ball when playing the sport.
However, thanks to a tool engineered by an upper limb prosthetics company called Koalaa, a tool which has been named after Joanie herself, she can now play the sport she said she “loves so much”.
“It was really difficult playing because you have to toss up the ball,” Joanie told the PA news agency.
“If you don’t have another hand, you can’t toss the ball up and hit it down, and this helps me to do that.”
Joanie’s father, Alan Melady, 42, said: “It was the part of your game that was quite weak, the serve, because it was so inconsistent.
“What she used to do was put the racket underneath her left arm, hold the ball, throw it up, grab the racket and then hit it.”
“It didn’t really work,” Joanie added.
Since using the prosthetic, Joanie said she has noticed she is “very confident” on the court because she said: “I know I’m able to do it.
“It helps me to serve by tossing up the ball, it’s improved my game.
Joanie Melady has just played in her first tennis tournament, where she won the doubles match (Alan Melady/PA)
“Before, I wasn’t that strong with my hits, and I wasn’t very confident.
“But now I’m very confident because I know I’m able to do it, I know I’m able to win and not do it on my second serve, and lose the second serve.”
Mr Melady added: “It’s been incredible.
“She’s been interested in tennis since she was about five.
“It was clear she had this natural ability, but obviously with the whole serve thing, and then when the guys at Koalaa sent this, it was just incredible.
“You watch her now and there’s no difference between her and any of the other players.
“Her confidence has just shot up.
“She’s playing a lot more and she’s always happy when she’s playing tennis.”
Joanie Melady serving with her Koalaa prosthetic, which has been named after her (Koalaa)
Joanie has been using a variety of Koalaa’s prosthetics tools for three years.
As well as providing her with a tool to help her surf, the team have also given Joanie a prosthetic to help her play the guitar, which is equipped with a pick at the end.
Joanie and her family started to build a relationship with the team at Koalaa and met with them several times.
Mr Melady said: “Every time, Joanie kept saying, ‘I want you to make a tennis tool because I can’t throw the ball up’.”
Listening to Joanie, the team went away to create the prosthetic tool and provided Joanie with a series of prototypes to be worn at the end of her limb.
The tool has now been named after her.
“I’m really happy that they called me it,” she said.
“I feel really, really, really honoured.”
Joanie Melady said she feels ‘really honoured’ that Koalaa have named the prosthetic tool after her (Alan Melady)
The Joanie tool is now available for other tennis players and fans of the sport of all ages.
Joanie said: “I feel really happy that I’m not just helping me, I’m helping other people, and that they can experience what it’s like to toss up the ball and to win a few matches.”
Joanie has just taken part in her first tennis tournament at the Halton Tennis Club in Buckinghamshire, where she won the doubles.
“I was really nervous and scared because I’ve never played a tennis tournament before, and it was just after six nights of camping, so I was really tired,” Joanie said.
“I lost two and won two, but when I lost them I felt really upset, and I felt like I was going to give up, but I shouldn’t give up, because I shouldn’t give up something I love so much.”
On winning the doubles set, she added: “I felt really proud of me and my partner.”
Nate Macabuag, founder of Koalaa, said: “Joanie is an absolute superstar and I can’t put into words how proud we are seeing her on the tennis court and hearing how much the new tool has helped her.
“Naming our prosthetics and tools after the people who inspired them is something we always love to do, as all of Koalaa’s designs are driven by our users and their ideas and feedback.”