What is it like to play a Rio gold medal winner? I found out when I faced wheelchair tennis star Gordon Reid last week
- Credit: Archant
The Scot has won the Australian Open, Wimbledon and claimed a gold and silver in Rio this year, but is focused on giving back to the sport
As I watched Great Britain athletes shine in Rio this summer, I certainly did not think that a few weeks later I would get a chance to play against one of them.
When I say play, I’m sure anybody at the Lee Valley Hockey & Tennis Centre last Thursday morning will correct me and say tried to play!
Gordon Reid, who won gold in the wheelchair tennis at the Paralympic Games on September 16, was at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park last week.
The 25-year-old Scot was helping preview the NEC Wheelchair Tennis Masters, taking place at Lee Valley from November 30 to December 4.
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It has been an incredible year for Reid and if you thought 2016 was special for Andy Murray, it has been arguably even better for the Paralympic star.
Having failed to win a single Grand Slam before this year, Reid triumphed at the Australian Open and claimed victory at the inaugural Wimbledon singles competition.
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The humble Glasgow resident then picked up gold in Rio a day after earning silver in the doubles – an incredible return for somebody who diagnosed with transverse myelitis, a disease which affects the spine, in 2004.
And after the highs of Australia, Wimbledon and Brazil, Reid then had to take on me – a complete novice when it comes to playing tennis let alone wheelchair tennis!
After spending just five minutes rallying with the GB star, I have so much more admiration for him and other Paralympians.
It was so difficult to grasp having to move your wheelchair and then return the ball in such a short space of time and Reid was brilliant even after watching me miss a shot for the 25th time!
The Scot was extremely helpful and, after telling me one of the toughest returns to make is when the ball drops just in front of your feet, I duly tried and failed to make that shot.
Although it was tough to try and get a rally of decent length going, it was such a fun experience to say I’ve played with a gold-medal winner.
I didn’t grasp wheelchair tennis by the end of my five-minute hit, but I did feel more at ease and can’t thank Reid enough or the NEC Wheelchair Tennis Masters press team for giving me the opportunity to play on the incredible Lee Valley courts.
What I found hard was when a return came my way and I just knew I couldn’t get to the ball no matter how much I wanted to.
It takes an incredible amount of mental strength and patience to deal with that constantly and anybody who plays wheelchair tennis certainly has my admiration.
After my original rally with Reid, I was lucky enough to join him on court again and partner Alex Chaston, 13, against the GB ace.
During my second time on court, I witnessed potentially another star of the future with Chaston showing his ability and impressive back hand.
Reid praised the young Londoner, who also has transverse myelitis, and made Chaston’s day, which was heartwarming to witness.
As much fun as it was to play wheelchair tennis with Reid, seeing and hearing his determination to raise awareness of the sport and inspire the next generation was the best thing about the day.
This is one champion who isn’t just content on winning medals.
Reid said: “The most important thing for me when it comes to being a role model is what you do with it?
“You can either put yourself out with that profile and be selfish, use it for your own gain like I have seen other people do or you can go out and do some good and that is what I’ve tried to this year in terms of getting more people playing the sport and trying to grow the sport.
“I’ll owe more to wheelchair tennis than it will ever owe to me because of the positive impact it has had on my life. If I can help inspire and showcase that to other kids and let the sport have the same impact on them that it has had on my life then it is just as important as me winning these titles.”
Chaston added: “I watched Gordon in the Paralympics and how he trains. It is really cool to see him play.
“I was really excited before playing him and that was definitely the best part of the day. I hope I can do it again. He was telling me I have a really good backhand and to keep working on it.”
Tennis fans can purchase their tickets for the tournament at tennisfoundation.org.uk. Child tickets are priced at £1 for weekday and weekend matches whilst adult tickets can be snapped up for £10 and £15 for the weekday and weekend matches respectively.