For Joanna Nieh, the tennis court is an escape, a place where she can show everyone she can't be stopped.

"I like competing," Joanna said. "And I think it's fun."

The 17-year-old was born with spina bifida, which occurs when the spine and spinal cord don't properly form, resulting in leg paralysis. Over the course of Joanna's short life, she's endured 15 surgeries. But it's hard to tell she has any limitations as she spins around in a specially-designed wheelchair.

"The wheels are slanted out, so it's easier to turn," Joanna explained.

Joanna started playing tennis 11 years ago. Through practice six days a week, she's become an ace, playing in tournaments, most recently in France.

She's now ranked number three in the world among girls in wheelchairs. She also competes for her high school's varsity tennis team, usually against players who are not disabled. 

It's big a point of pride for her parents, who weren't sure if she'd ever be able to play sports.

"It was hard to find activities for children with disabilities, and I was surprised she found stuff she liked, and what she liked was sports. I had no idea that she could play sports," said Belinda Nieh, Joanna's mother. "It's been great that there are so many opportunities for children with disabilities to play sports, so they can play sports just like any other kid." 

One of those opportunities is at Riverside Park, where Joanna takes part in a free adaptive tennis program once a week with other children just like her. 

"Everybody benefits from being out here, moving their muscles, getting some fresh air, focusing," said Daniel Garodnick, who runs the Riverside Park Conservancy.

The program has helped to give Joanna the skills and confidence to play not just tennis but other sports. She competes in wheelchair racing, adaptive skiing and wheelchair basketball.

"It feels good," Joanna said. "And people are just more aware of people with disabilities, and they can do a lot of things that other people can."