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Fantastic Showing for South West Tennis Players at the Special Olympics!

The Special Olympics 2017 National Games were recently held in Sheffield and I am delighted to report on a hugely successful time for the tennis players representing the South West Region.

The Special Olympics are like the Olympics and Paralympics, but cater specifically for athletes with an intellectual (learning) disability. Over 2,000 athletes were assembled from all over the Country for the games to take part in wide range of sports. These athletes were brilliantly supported by an army of enthusiastic, friendly and helpful volunteers and the Olympic Spirit was alive in Sheffield.

The SW tennis team consisted of 17 players, which was a record entry and by far the largest contingent from any region in the Country. This evidences the great work being done by coaches in Devon, Cornwall and throughout the region to make tennis as accessible as possible for everyone.

All of the players had been training hard in the build up to the games, were well prepared and hopes were high. However, Team Head Coach, Paul Roberts from Heron Tennis, had emphasized to all the players that main objectives were to make sure everyone enjoyed the experience, got through the week safely and tried their hardest.  Any medals were to be a bonus. 

Well, those first objectives were wholly achieved and a lovely team spirit was built as well, but the great news is that on top of that we managed to secure a brilliant haul of medals as well, including 3 x Singles Golds, 1 x Doubles Gold Medal and numerous other Silver and Bronze medals.

Our 3 superstar Gold Medal winners in the singles events were Newquay players Ben Smyth and Shirley Sanders and Bristol based Alex Hume. All three of these players did incredibly well in dealing with the pressure of the crowds and the occasion to play some great tennis and were all very worthy winners. In what was possibly the on-court moment of the week, Newquay pairing of Robbie Hampshaw and Josh Burt, both having narrowly missed out on singles success, had the doubles left as their final chance for Gold and a very strong performance was needed as they were facing the highly rated and strong Welsh number 1 pairing. Both lads played the tennis of their life and held their nerve incredibly well to secure a fantastic victory in front of a great crowd. The match featured some truly excellent tennis from all 4 players and was played in a great spirit as well.

There were also great performances by the players below to win silvers and bronzes in singles or doubles and with many of our team members being so young there is lots more potential to be fulfilled over the next 4 years.

Very well done to Taylor Marsland, James Jenings, Sam Pike, Corey Lovell Jack Smale, Fiona Lame, Josephine Price, Paul Carr, David Jones, Rhyss Parry and Tom Sewell.

So all in all it was a fantastic and memorable week, but it’s also worth mentioning the off-court challenges that our players faced were much tougher than we could have imagined too. The 9 Hour+ coach trip, not returning from the brilliant opening ceremony until 11.30pm on day 1, Daily breakfasts at 6.00am and evening meals at 8.00pm with a full day of tennis in-between, staying away from home in a strange place, so many changes to routines etc. etc.  all made for an incredibly challenging time, but the players were absolutely brilliantly in how well they coped with everything and without a doubt they have learned a great deal and benefitted hugely from the whole experience.

This would be a good point to say a huge thank you to the adults who gave up their week to accompany the team and who really played a part in making the week run so well. Beth Nash, Helen Jennings, Georgie Wells, Carole Hampshaw and Lyn Francis.

Huge thanks must also go out to David Painter, Steve Hillman, Alan Stockdale, Val Hanover and all the other people who played their part in making this happen and also to all the volunteers and games organisers and supporters and sponsors.

Personally, I felt very privileged to be looking after our team and thank and praise them all so much for doing so well and giving everyone who was there a week full of happy and special memories.

If you, or anyone you know, might be interested in trying tennis and has additional needs, please do get in touch. Many of our medal winners this time round would never have believed they would be doing that when they first started. Everything is possible.

Report by Paul Roberts

Heron Tennis and Cornwall Disability Tennis Network Coordinator

07801 369 242.