LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Sometimes an athlete can be a star for more reasons than the talent they bring to their sport.
23-year-old Rachel Sweatt is a beast on the tennis court, and her success is made that much sweeter by the challenges she's faced to get there. She's autistic and had a rough start in her childhood.
"We met her when she was 9-years-old," Rachel's mother, Deby, said.
"She was non-verbal, frustrated, and she couldn't communicate anything. Her dad said that she needed to hit something. So, he put a little tennis racket in her hand, and she's never stopped playing since," she said.
Deby says Rachel had been removed her from her home by DHS because of on-going abuse. She was placed in the state's foster care system, and the Sweatts were asked to take her in, just for a weekend. They quickly realized Rachel was a part of their family and decided to adopt her.
"We knew that we needed to have her," Sweatt said.
"My husband kept calling her a 'diamond in the rough.'"
Sweatt says tennis has helped teach Rachel how to react in high-stress situations, and how to form relationships with other people.
Rachel has been the #1 Women's USTA 4.0 player in Arkansas for 3 years in a row. She's also the #1 female tennis Special Olympics player in the U.S.
Rachel travels to Florida next week to compete in the 2021 Special Olympics.
"She's kind, she's loving, she's happy, she's generous, she loves to help people," Sweatt said.
"She doesn't give up. That's Rachel."