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Roger Federer came from two sets and three match points down to win at Wimbledon today. My new favorite player on the men’s tour, Nicolas Mahut, moved into the doubles semifinal.

But the real story for me is Francesca Jones, who lost yesterday in the second round of the girls’ singles championships. Francesca was born with Ectrodactyly Ectodermal Dysplasia (EED), a rare condition that means she has lived her 15 years with a thumb and just three fingers on each hand. She moves around with only a total of seven toes instead of 10. She left her family at age 9 to pursue her dream of becoming a world-class player by moving to a tennis academy in Barcelona.

While it’s easy to admire Francesca as a trailblazer, it’s probably not always easy being Francesca. In addition to having several surgeries, she has been mocked by many in her young life, and I’m sure tough matches on the tennis court are nothing compared to what she sometimes must endure off it.

I’ve written before that tennis was my refuge except for years of snickers and hearing the word “fag” from some of my high school teammates. When I was Francesca’s age, most kids and even coaches didn’t know what to make of gay athletes. Many people didn’t accept us as athletes. I had other ways to escape, though, that were more predictable for a young gay guy: music and poetry! My poor family had to endure hours of my playing the bassoon. I loved to write poetry. Winning national awards did wonders for my self esteem, just like I’m sure every victory for Francesca makes her even more motivated. She has stated that she is proud of her syndrome.

I hope my daughter will be proud of hers the more she learns about it and her classmates and other kids really take notice. Right now, some do and some do not. Ellen shakes things off pretty easily. What her two fathers do not yet see is a fierce determination, but for me that is a relief. I don’t want Ellen to wonder, like I sometimes did, if I really belonged in this world, nor have to keep winning to justify my place in it. I want Ellen to celebrate being Ellen. The world is changing, I believe for the better, bit by bit. Francesca may never lift Wimbledon trophies, but she has already lifted a million hearts.

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