James is a wheelchair tennis athlete who has been playing for over 15 years. He talks to Sundried about life as an athlete.
What made you first get into the sport of tennis?
Growing up, I always wanted to be a runner like my dad but due to having Cerebral Palsy from birth, my parents knew this would be difficult to pursue. Because I kept asking to play sport, I was taken to a disability day where I could try out lots of different sports and that's when I first played tennis.
The thing I loved about tennis from the start was how wheelchair players could play with or against able bodied players due to the only rule change being the option of a second bounce in the wheelchair game. All I wanted was to be involved in sport with my friends and family, so this made me very motivated to pursue tennis in the hopes I could challenge them to a game.
What do you like most about playing tennis?
It's the variety of tennis that I enjoy the most because no day is ever the same. Tennis players must be strong, quick, agile and obviously technically good so certain days will be more strength or power based, and others may be based around having in-depth tactical discussions; this has kept the sport interesting to me even after playing it for well over 15 years.
What's been your favourite competition and why?
The British Open has always been my favourite competition on the calendar as it's not only the biggest in Britain behind Wimbledon, it's also my local one. I started playing at the venue when I was 7; it was my first competition, and now I get to come back and play in front of all my friends and family that have supported me and my tennis career that takes me around the world. I can't wait to get on the court in front of a crowd again next year!
Talk us through your training regime.
I am a full-time tennis player so train 6 days a week. Training normally consists of getting up at 6.30am, doing my morning stretching and movement work to make sure I'm prepared for training, then I go to the tennis centre and do 3 hours on court, before finishing off with a gym or speed session. My day normally ends with more stretching and a nap to make sure my body is in top condition for the next day
Do you follow a specific diet? If so, what/when do you eat?
My diet is something that changes depending on my goals in different training blocks as sometimes I want to be adding muscle and other times need to be leaner. The main goal with my diet is to get enough calories to fuel my high training loads. I often burn in excess of 3500 calories a day so have a high carb diet (normally lots of bread, pasta, and potatoes), with 4 good sources of protein throughout the day, and obviously lots of fruit and veg to get the vitamins and minerals that I need. My diet during competition is the same plan as back home but often I require supplements to replace certain meals because the same food isn't always available.
What challenges have you faced since you started playing tennis competitively?
The main challenge I have faced when starting out competing is my lack of speed on court which resulted in a lot of rejection when I wanted to break into the Great Britain set up. Because my Cerebral Palsy affects the coordination of my whole body, I found it difficult to push my own manual chair. I was given an electric chair to get around which of course made me even weaker and slower, and I therefore was getting to a lot less balls than my competitors could. It's taken a lot of work, but with the help of great coaches around me who have the same motivation to find ways to improve my game, I am now one of the quicker players in my division.
Who inspires you?
My parents have always been the ones that inspired me to work hard and to play sport, and they're the reason I am in the position I am today; as a world team champion, national champion and full time athlete.
What advice do you wish you'd been given when you first started out?
The lesson I wish I learnt earlier was that failure is okay. When I started, I was so worried about making mistake because I felt I always had to prove myself due to my disability. However, over the years I have realised everyone that becomes a success has had failures along the way, and the reason it doesn't define them is because they don't let it stop them. Now I challenge myself to do things I'm not sure if I can do because even if I fail, I know the lessons I learn from my mistakes will help me become greater in the future.
What advice would you give to other wheelchair athletes?
My advice to other wheelchair users is to keep adapting and find a way to do what you want in life. I train like an able-bodied person every day and then make adaptions along the way if needed. If you are so worried about your disability preventing you from doing something and then you don't try, you'll never know what you're capable of. I wanted to be a runner and didn't know if it'd be possible for me to do any sport, but I tried lots of different ones and eventually found tennis which has not only given me the strength to be completely independent, but also the confidence that I can do anything I want to in life.
Why work with Sundried?
I initially saw Sundried products on social media and loved the look of them. I have found many similar products for very high prices and was pleased to see sundried were much more farer for the same quality. By reading their story I discovered many of the products are created sustainably which is something I am very motivated towards and hope more people will be in the future as well. I look forward to having a long-term future with Sundried.