Olly Biles has been a part of Local Tennis Leagues from the early days but for the last couple of years has been travelling the world playing tennis (ocassionally) and poker. Last month he celebrated his 30th birthday with an unwelcome visit to a Bali hospital. Here's his story of coming though Covid-19, his passion for tennis and what comes next.
Some of you will know Olly as an inspirational coach, drawing on his acting training to help league players get the best out of their tennis. But Olly also worked for many years behind the scenes at LTL, in particular helping submit qualifying scores to the LTA, a tedious job that back then required a mastery of the spreadsheet and a good deal of elbow grease.
Two years ago, Olly and his partner Alice, set off for the trip of a lifetime, a world-tour sustained in part by his other passion and skill, poker. So successful has it been, Olly, based for now in Bali, Indonesia, became the Head of Video for the online channel, Poker News.
Then on the eve of his 30th birthday, potential disaster struck. "It's the first time I've actually been really scared for myself. I've just never felt so bad. I could barely stand up."
What had been planned by Alice to be a very special day, packed with the kind of high-octane experiences that are the hallmark of the ever-energetic Olly, ended up in A & E.
"We went for this special full-English breakfast and I just wasn't hungry. It's really weird feeling for me. A full English is a bit of a rare thing out here and normally given the chance I'll wolf down the whole lot.
"I struggled my way through the escape room too. Alice was full of energy because it was my birthday, bouncing around the room trying to do everything and I could barely get up off the floor. The next treat was for me to have a massage and I remember my muscles were really aching and my whole body was so tired. I thought, I'll go to the massage and then hopefully I'll feel a bit better but it made it worse. After that we were meant to go out for a meal but we didn't go. The illness took me over. The next day I felt worse and I went to hospital. I was so hot and cold. That was the biggest thing, how much like my temperature was fluctuating from boiling hot to freezing cold. I was in the A&E for maybe two hours and I basically passed out."
Above, Olly's travellogue
With Covid-19 still in its earliest days in Bali, and with the inevitable shortage of testing kits, Olly never did get an official test, but he and his doctors have little doubt that he was one of the island's early cases. Olly suspects he contracted the disease on a poker trip to Cambodia.
"I was working in a casino full of Chinese people and poker is a pretty high risk activity because you're exchanging chips, everyone's touching the chips and everyone's touching their faces."
Olly, looked after by Alice, slowly recovered at home. "I was bed-bound for the first three days, but luckily never really developed the cough. If I had done, I might have had to go back to the hospital for a test. As it was, we were locked down for fourteen days."
Olly is now pretty much fully recovered: "Physically I feel a hundred percent. The one weird thing is moments of brain-fog where I completely forget what I'm meant to be doing. It's weird for me. I'm generally quite good at mental arithmetic, but sometime I look at the simplest sum and I don't know what is going on!"
Olly reckons a couple more weeks of rest and recuperation and playing his favourite video games will sort that, and he does have time on his hands. "Two bad things happened in a week. I contracted Covid and I lost my job". With the poker circuit shut down, Poker News was forced to lay him off. But Alice is still teaching English to Chinse students online and Olly isn't worried yet. Bali is cheap and he has savings.
When the world emerges from Covid, it will be for Olly, like so many of us, an opportunity to take stock and perhaps change direction. He is interested in putting his video skills to use in tennis, perhaps eventually covering the pro game. Tennis is still Olly's main sport and he hopes to be playing more of it soon, but he's unlikely to return to coaching.
"The tennis coaching in London was fun but it was a struggle with the weather and to get enough work. Summer was great when I was in shorts and a T-shirt. I'd have to turn people away. But in the winter I felt bad because I was always contacting my players, trying to get work and even then it rained and I wouldn't make any money. That was stressing me out!
"Playing tennis is definitely something I want to get back into. The biggest thing I noticed when I do get on court now is that my fitness has dropped and my timing is terrible. But I still have my swing and I still know what I need to do."
Olly doesn't know when he'll be able to leave Bali, an island that he loves, although originally he had planned to return to the UK around now. If he does, he rather likes the idea of playing in the leagues. "The ten times that I've played over the last two and a half years I've honestly had more fun with tennis than I ever did when I was coaching though I loved helping my pupils. Now it's a chance to enjoy running around smacking the ball and working on my own game for a change."
Needless to say, we can't wait for Olly to have the chance to play in the leagues again. But we will be intrigued whatever Olly does next. It won't be by halves and it will undoubtedly be brilliant.
You can see more of Olly's videos on his YouTube channel