Andy’s Story: How tennis has helped me cope with Parkinson’s
• 5 MINUTE READ
After being diagnosed with Parkinson’s at the age of 33, Andy Wright has rediscovered his passion for tennis after six years away from the sport.
His inspirational journey has seen him return as a regular at his local park courts in Nottingham and now he’s going above and beyond to raise awareness around how to live well with his condition.
From a young age sport dominated Andy’s life, and after trying a range of different activities through his youth, it was tennis that eventually stole his heart.
“I think I started playing tennis quite late, as a teenager at 17 or 18,” he said. “It wasn’t until I went to university that I started playing organised tennis and after that I carried on playing and started coaching throughout my early 20s.
“I started hitting with some really good players and at that time I had my first son. I remember him being a baby and learning to crawl on a tennis court so it was a really big part of our lives.”
But when he reached 33 Andy received some news that would change his life forever.
After suffering a shoulder injury during a car accident doctors noticed there was something holding him back from making a full recovery. Following further treatments and a brain scan, he was later diagnosed with early-onset Parkinson’s disease.
Being an active person throughout his life, Andy’s first thought was whether or not he would ever be able to play sport again. In the years that followed, he held back on returning to the court initially as he began to feel certain physical limitations.
“It changed every aspect of mine and my family’s life from then on,” he said. “It was a lot to take in at 33 with a young family. My reaction was to stop playing, if I couldn’t progress and improve, I didn’t want to play and see my game deteriorate so I walked away.”
It was during this period that Andy took on a volunteer role at Flo Skate Park in Nottingham, which would become his passion project for years to come. It was here that he met Tristan Hessing, who helped Andy take his first steps back to tennis.
“I first met Andy through Flo Skate Park and I just mentioned that I had to go because I was going to play tennis with some friends,” said Tristan.
“I didn’t realise at the time but that was Andy’s way back into playing tennis having not played for a long period.”
Once he got the taste back for the game, Andy realised how much he’d missed that feeling of being on court and decided to get involved in his Local Tennis League at Vernon Park Tennis Courts in Nottingham.
Having supported the programme for a number of years the LTA acquired Local Tennis Leagues earlier this year, with an ambition to take it to more park sites across Britain and create mass participation in grass roots competitive tennis with regular, community focussed events in a friendly environment. The move forms part of the LTA’s strategy to open up tennis and grow the game in public park courts.
“To get back on court in a league match was really exciting,” Andy said. “I think I probably made a bit too much of a thing of it and got a bit hyped up which resulted in nerves.
“I learned a lot about managing my Parkinson’s over a full singles match; at the start I couldn’t feel my feet and was incredibly stiff but as I loosened up I found that I got into it and was pleased to get three games in each set from a strong opponent.”
Over time he started to play more frequently and found that moving around the court and making those big shots felt increasingly natural. Tennis once again became a huge part of his life and Andy was noticing the benefits it was having on his condition.
“I often say to people that I feel most normal when I’m on a tennis court, which is kind of cheesy but I genuinely do,” he said. “At some point today I’m going to struggle to walk the distance to my car but when I’m on a tennis court I can run, move, serve and jump.”
As one of his closest friends both on the court and away from tennis, Jason Kilkie has witnessed first-hand Andy’s journey to rediscover his long lost passion.
“There were moments on the court where you can tell he thought he lost that or he’d never feel that again,” Jason said. “But whether that it was a one-off shot or being able to move again around the court it’s just these little moments that creep back in. It’s quite emotional at times.
“Since he’s come back you see him growing every time he’s on the court. It’s great to see that he can still develop and he’s genuinely getting better every time I see him.”
Since lockdown Andy has been out playing more than ever. His main goal now is just to enjoy every moment on court, especially in his Local Tennis League, where he recently finished as runner-up.
“I’ve realised sport doesn’t have to be competitive,” he said. “There’s something for everyone that can make you feel good and have fun.
“The first hit back when the park courts opened was so much fun. You could tell everyone was just giddy to get out! We’re lucky that tennis lends itself well to social distancing with a few not-too-intrusive adjustments and it’s great to see lots of new people playing.”
Join Local Tennis Leagues
Find your nearest Local Tennis League and discover how you can get involved here.