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Dean Oba had a successful career as a chemical engineer, is happily married and is the father of three. And he's a fierce tennis player.

That he was born with spina bifida and has used a wheelchair since he was 12 has never stopped him.

The 59-year-old Salt Lake City man has tried to impart that attitude to young people who have spina bifida and others who have suffered spinal injuries. He has played tennis for 34 years, and for the past 17 has taught others who also use wheelchairs the skills he has mastered on the court.

It's why the United States Tennis Association this week presented Oba with its Brad Parks Award, established in 2002 to recognize outstanding contributions to the sport of wheelchair tennis.

"When he has a racket in his hand and he's on the court, he's lit up," said his wife, Trish Oba.

Tennis is a sport in which there's no hiding from a bad shot ­— or a good one.

"It's challenging, and there is always something you can do to be better," said Oba, who recently retired from ATK. "It's about personal challenge and personal growth."

The Brad Parks Award recognizes Oba's contribution to tennis and his community, said Kurt Kamperman of the USTA.

"Dean Oba's dedication to introducing wheelchair tennis to new players makes him a hero for our sport," Kamperman said.

Longtime friend and avid tennis player Larry Orr said that after spending years developing wheelchair techniques for tennis and basketball, Oba has unselfishly passed those skills along to others.

"It's been pretty amazing," Orr said. "Dean has laid the groundwork for the youth to get them into wheelchair tennis."

Oba enjoys imparting a sense of achievement to youngsters in wheelchairs, Trish Oba said.

"He wants the kids to learn on the court and experience success," she said. "If they can experience success on the court, they can experience success in life."

Through tennis, Oba sees metaphors for a better life, his wife said.

"He likes to demonstrate the things he thinks are important in life. And one is sportsmanship," she said. "That is who he is in real life."

Oba likes to start his students with wheelchair basketball, where they can learn the skills of handling the chair in a competitive setting. "Once they get the chair skills, some move on to tennis," he said.

For many years, he has worked as a coach and mentor with the Salt Lake County Recreation Department, the Junior Jazz program and the University of Utah.

"If you don't give new players skills, they go away frustrated," he said. "I have a knack for teaching. I knew I could teach beginners the fundamentals."

And Oba is always seeking new participants, young and not so young, to learn wheelchair sports.

"I hope there is someone who will read this and come out and try a sport," he said. "We have all these groups who have created wonderful programs. I am just a small part of it."