From overcoming breast cancer to becoming an inspirational tennis coach

06/03/2021

| News

Ahead of International Women’s Day on 8 March 2021, we are using LTA channels to celebrate some of the incredible women within our sport, giving them an opportunity to share their story and their passion for tennis.

Tennis and sport in general has the ability to change lives – a message that certainly isn’t lost on Essex-based tennis coach and LTA She Rallies activator, Jo Stehle.

As someone who came to the sport later than most following treatment for breast cancer, Jo has since transformed Thurrock Tennis Club into a thriving venue that welcomes players from far and wide.

With the support of her family, Jo now dedicates herself to helping more people play tennis. We caught up with her to find out more about her motivations and how she’s making a difference in the community.

“To be honest, I often think that if I had never had breast cancer, I wouldn’t have discovered tennis.”

“I was a very late starter with tennis – I always had an interest in it from watching Wimbledon as a kid, but I don’t think it was as accessible back then as it is now,” says Jo.

“Where I lived there were no tennis clubs nearby, you’d just go over to play in the park.

“Eight years ago I was diagnosed with breast cancer and after I had finished my treatment I was left pretty unfit. My daughters said at the time that they wanted to have tennis lessons, so I thought I’d give it a go myself!

“The coach at the club had just started a beginners’ ladies group and after I got involved with that, I was hooked – it became an obsession.

“To be honest, I often think that if I had never had breast cancer, I wouldn’t have discovered tennis.”

As Jo’s love for the game continued to grow, she found that new opportunities presented themselves at the club and soon she was totally immersed in transforming the sport in her community.

“Fairly soon a role came up at the club to become the Social Secretary and all of a sudden I was organising things like American Doubles tournaments, fun days to bring in people from the area, and we started to see membership numbers really grow,” Jo said.

“We started at around 40 members but now we have around 160 – half of which are women and girls.

“When my eldest daughter turned 16, she decided she wanted to do her Level 1 coaching certificate and because of the work we’d done at the club, they said they would pay for both of us to do it. I hadn’t even thought about coaching but I always think these things happen for a reason and I loved it – especially teaching Cardio Tennis.

“The best thing about running the cardio sessions is that anyone can get involved. People always say to me ‘oh but I can’t play tennis’ but really it doesn’t matter and it’s helping a lot of women pick up a racket for the first time.

“I’ve had a few people come to me and tell me that they have been suffering from quite severe depression, but that those cardio sessions help them get out of bed and they can forget about everything when they’re on court. That really touched me.

“Now I always think to myself, this isn’t work; this is just me helping people to have the best fun and come together to play our sport – they’ve become my extended family.”

Along the way on her tennis journey, Jo has always taken inspiration from a very special person in her life.

“My Dad was the same as me, he only first got into golf when he was 42 and fell in love with it straight away. We’re very alike in a lot of ways and he’s a huge role model for me. I think it takes a lot to earn that title but he's made me who I am today.”

Back in 2018, Jo and her family wanted to do something to give back to the people who helped them through one of their toughest challenges to date.

“When I had breast cancer I always said that I wanted to do something to give back,” she said. “So, Charlotte, Jessica (my two daughters) and I put on a tennis-athon three years ago, where we played for more than eight hours straight.

“We set up on the courts and encouraged people from the community to come and pay to play against us. We raised just under £3000 on the day and the support we got was just amazing.

“I didn’t know but my consultant who supported me during my treatment surprised us and turned up to watch for an hour or so – it was really emotional.”

As an LTA She Rallies activator, Jo is passionate about inspiring more women and girls to get active and discover their love for tennis. She believes the key to encouraging the next generation lies in opportunities for girls at school.

“One of the things that I’ve noticed in primary school clubs in particular, is that often they can be quite stereotypical – the football clubs are for boys, cricket club for boys,” says Jo.

"Tennis is the sport that in my mind, it really doesn’t matter what gender you are."

“But tennis is the sport that in my mind, it really doesn’t matter what gender you are. Through She Rallies we have been taking more tennis sessions into schools to help more young girls have a chance to play, and have fun playing our sport.”

“I think for women more generally, the best way to get over any nerves and maybe their perceptions of playing tennis, is to get in touch with a club or venue and see if you can arrange a taster session by yourself.

“I know that women would usually prefer to speak to another woman when they first start, so I like to help them take that first step.”

LTA She Rallies

Find out more about the LTA She Rallies programme and how you can get involved here.

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