Despite battling early onset Parkinson’s at just 33, Andy shows us how it’s done!
Currently in second place of Group 2 in the Nottingham League, we had to find out more about his inspiring story and return to tennis…
Thanks for getting in touch! I wanted to share my experience because I don’t think the wider public are aware of how Parkinson’s can affect younger people and also, I know when I was diagnosed it would have been some comfort to know there are people still playing competitive tennis 6 years on…
Early on, I started playing backyard tennis as a kid in the 90s with my Mum and Sister. I didn’t play much in my teens but really got the bug at University and from then on tennis was a huge part of my life until I got diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease 6 years ago and stopped playing. It changed every aspect of mine and my family’s life from then on. When I found out, I was playing at a fairly decent standard, but I’d already started to notice some of the early physical limitations the disease was causing. It was a lot to take in at 33 with a young family. My reaction was to stop playing, if I couldn’t progress and improve, I didn’t want to play and see my game deteriorate so I walked away. Although it took several years, thankfully my perspective is healthier now.
This year in January I started playing at a friendly local park court’s social in January. The guys down there are super friendly and gradually as I got my eye in and stopped smacking serves into my doubles partners, I got a bit fitter and started to recognise all the things I loved about tennis were still there. Fast forward through lockdown and a couple of weeks ago one of the guys down there said, "have you heard about the park leagues........"
So I joined the Nottingham league and to get back on court in a league match was really exciting. I think I probably made a bit too much of a thing of it and got a bit hyped up which resulted in nerves. The guy I played was experienced in the leagues and was really friendly which put me at ease. I learned a lot about managing my Parkinson’s over a full singles match; at the start I couldn’t feel my feet and was incredibly stiff but as I loosened up I found that I got into it and was pleased to get 3 games in each set from a strong opponent.
Since then I’m trying to play a bit more cleverly to manage my physical limitations. I feel like a bit of a dinosaur with my "classic rackets" so a bit like an ageing serve volley-er I’m trying to play aggressive on or inside the baseline, use my backhand slice and try to move people around a bit, all with the express aim of keeping the points as short as possible and conserving my energy. I’m feeling good for a ‘W’ in me this round! Mostly though I feel really grateful to be out there. Parkinson’s limits me in so many ways but with a tennis racket in hand all the old subconscious movements are coming back and I feel more ‘normal’ on a tennis court than in any other aspect of life.
Getting back into tennis has made me realise how much I love the personal challenge of a match. I’m not much of a team player in sports (!) and I love the idea of trying to figure out for yourself a way past an opponent. At the highest level it’s like watching a boxing match as two heavyweights slug it out, it’s so physically brutal. At my level it’s less so! but the challenge is still there and the feeling of connecting on a good shot is one of the best.
During lockdown I really missed playing tennis and was worried I’d lose all the progress I made. A few months isn’t 6 years though and thankfully I got in the groove quickly. The first hit back when the park courts were opened was so much fun. You could tell everyone was just giddy to get out! We’re lucky that tennis lends itself well to social distancing with a few not-too-intrusive adjustments and it’s great to see lots of new people playing. Park courts are in high demand, it’s like Wimbledon fortnight, hopefully it’ll continue.
My experience of park tennis, through the lovely people that organise hits and socials at my local courts, right through to this league is the complete antithesis of the stuffy image, cost and rules that used to annoy in more traditional club settings I’ve been exposed to, I would recommend joining a league in a heartbeat. It is affordable, inclusive, fun and friendly and I have been impressed with how organised it all is through the website and social media. It really does strip away all the nonsense and gets tennis back to its essence, getting outdoors, keeping fit and having fun.