Grantham players going the extra mile in recognition of ‘very special coach’ Richard Edgley
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Abbie Breakwell’s appetite for wheelchair tennis knows no bounds and it’s an appetite she shares with Grantham Tennis Club’s Richard Edgley, the Disability Tennis Coordinator for the LTA's Open Court programme in Lincolnshire. That’s why Abbie and her fellow Grantham player Libby Duncan are joining up to give something back in recognition of someone she describes as ‘a very special coach’.
Although Richard was diagnosed with cancer in 2018, he has continued to work tirelessly to help disability tennis thrive throughout the East Midlands and Lincolnshire region. In recent years he has been a regular on the coaching team for the come and try sessions at the LTA’s British Open Wheelchair Tennis Championships, where Abbie first tried wheelchair tennis, working in all weathers to ensure that as many people as possible get to experience the sport.
The LTA’s ‘Open Court’ disability tennis programme has grown to become one of the largest of its kind across any sport, supporting grassroots participation activity for disabled people in an impairment specific way – including sessions catering for wheelchair, visually impaired, deaf, learning disability, mental health and other long-term health conditions. There are currently more disabled people playing tennis in Britain than ever before across the LTA’s 500-strong network of venues for disability tennis, with a fivefold increase in participation since 2012.
One of the hotbeds of the thriving programme has been Lincolnshire, and specifically Grantham Tennis Club, and one man who has been at the very heart of that is Richard. He has been a passionate advocate of tennis being a great sport to play for disabled people, because it can be adaptive and inclusive.
One of the many hundreds of beneficiaries of Richard’s work, passion and commitment over the years at Grantham Tennis Club and in Lincolnshire has been GB wheelchair tennis player, Abbie Breakwell.
“After first trying wheelchair tennis at a come and try session at the British Open in 2015, I’d been playing and having lessons in Loughborough and Nottingham for about six months before I first met Richard” Abbie recalls. “My parents got an email from the LTA saying new wheelchair sessions were starting in Grantham and I really wanted to go. Richard was so enthusiastic. I really enjoyed the atmosphere he created on court and the way he made everyone feel unique and special. He never treats anyone any different, whether they have a physical or learning disability. I just found that so lovely.”
A multiple National School Games and National Championships medallist, Abbie is currently ranked No.8 in the junior wheelchair tennis world rankings. She is one of several members of the LTA’s Wheelchair National Age Group Programme who complement their personal coaching sessions with Martyn Whait (also the LTA’s Wheelchair Tennis Performance Coach) in Loughborough by also hitting in groups sessions at Grantham Tennis Club.
“Playing wheelchair tennis has helped to boost my self-confidence and shown me that I can achieve great things in life with focus and the right support team and Richard has especially helped me a lot. No matter what the challenge, he would never shy away from it and he would always liaise with Martyn Whait, my main personal coach, to make sure I was working on what I needed to. He’s often helped me see how I could improve in ways that someone else might not see. He also likes to make sure people can experience things as a group so that they can build friendships whilst learning.”
Richard’s impact on the growth of disability tennis, from on-court coaching to more recently becoming Lincolnshire’s lead for the Open Court Programme, is also emphasised by the LTA’s Disability Development Partner, Matt Elkington, who says:
“The success of Richard’s countless hours spent on court for me at the British Open, annually engaging new people, can be seen by simply looking at some of the Wheelchair National Age Group Programme players. If their first experience of tennis wasn’t with Richard, they may not be still with us today and moving up the junior world rankings.”
“In terms of his work specifically at Grantham, four years on from the introduction of disability specific programmes at the club they were named national ‘Disability Club of the Year’ in the 2017 LTA Awards. This goes to show his impact and passion for our sport.
“His attitude and endeavour mean that we now have a county-wide programme in Lincolnshire with almost 10 separate venues delivering disability specific or inclusive activities year-round, with well over 250 disabled people per month picking up a racket. Most of this has been instigated through Richard and his network of connections and friends.”
One of the friendships Abbie made through playing at Grantham Tennis Club is with Libby Duncan, a young player who also now helps coach learning disability sessions at the club. In recognition of contribution Richard has made to the sport, the club and the County, the duo are now pairing up to give something back.
“Richard introduced me to Libby and was responsible for us becoming friends and we’ve since gone to the same college” Abbie says. “We decided a couple of months ago that we wanted to do Race For Life in honour of Richard as he’s done so much for both of us, for Grantham Tennis Club and for disability tennis as a whole. We just wanted to find a way of giving something back.
“We’re going to do 72 laps around an indoor tennis court to make up the 5K distance. But before that we are both starting our Level 2 Coaching together and have a 15-minute break after the course before going on to do our 5K. Richard’s a big part in me wanting to go on and work towards coaching qualifications. Libby’s already carrying on his legacy with the learning disability coaching she is helping with and I would like to be able to do the same one day.”
To support Abbie and Libby’s Very 2020 Race for Life (fundraising effort) in honour of Richard Edgley, click here.