Thomas has been in a wheelchair his whole life and found a passion for tennis when he was a child. He talks to Sundried about training and competing.
What made you first get into the sport of tennis?
I was involved in a car accident when I was 9 months old, so I grew up in a wheelchair and learnt the way and motion of life from the perspective of a wheelchair.
When I was about 5 years old, I attended various sports camps as you do as a child and I tried everything from wheelchair basketball to horse riding and archery. The only sport which seemed to come naturally, and that I absolutely loved, was tennis.
Luckily, I have older brothers who play tennis as a hobby so I always had someone to hit with on court which was a huge motivation. I started playing more seriously in my teens and went on to play for the South African team, reaching a world ranking of 29 in the junior league and competing internationally.
What do you like most about playing tennis?
The competitiveness is a huge drive for me; tennis is competitive on all levels. With the most obvious being physical, just as important are the mental and emotional aspects. If one is out of sync, your game will go horribly wrong. I make sure to factor in all three of those aspects when training, pre-match, and on court.
What's been your favourite competition and why?
The British Open in Nottingham. The best of the best come to compete as it is directly after Wimbledon so players from all over the world attend and the vibe from Wimbledon is still very much alive. It's also a great showcase of the sport and is well attended by supporters.
Talk us through your training regime.
I train 2-3 times a week at the National Tennis Centre in Roehampton. Once a week with a group of wheelchair tennis players and then 1-2 times a week one-on-one with my coaching team.
We normally start with a 2-5 minute warm up, ranging from stretching the arms and shoulders to intensive pushing for cardio and strength. The team then decide on a theme for the practice, which will be anything from consistency and direction to power and set plays. They key is to stay away from any negativity or frustration which can appear easily given the determination of both myself and my coaching team, and as soon as this happens we often take water breaks and reset the concentration. Finally, for the last 30 minutes, we have a free hit to try and implement the lessons and coaching advice in a match situation, the part of training where I learn a lot.
Do you follow a specific diet? If so, what/when do you eat?
No, not really. I love fast food and I'm a really fussy eater ... don't tell my coaching team! When it comes to tournaments, I make sure to get in a good protein-filled breakfast but nothing too heavy, and I bring bananas, isotonic energy gels and energy bars with me on court for before and after matches.
What challenges have you faced since you started playing tennis competitively?
Controlling my frustration. I often make the wrong decisions and unforced errors while in a competitive match and struggle to reset my thought process which can lead to losing the match. Making sure I am in the right head space and am fully mentally in the game is the greatest struggle of the game, no matter how fit and well trained I am beforehand.
Who inspires you?
When I was 5 years old I met Andre Agassi at a sports camp for children in wheelchairs. He gave me his signed racket and it is probably one of the reasons I fell in love with the sport at that age. Growing into the sport and coming to know and witness so many great players, it's hard to pick just one who inspires me but I must say that I am a Roger Federer fan and I'd love to meet him one day, perhaps when I reach my goal of playing at Wimbledon we will bump into one another...
What advice do you wish you'd been given when you first started out?
Don't stop! I was at the top of my game as a junior player when I stopped playing tennis (to focus on things teens do, like going out with friends and attending school events), and I have a lot of catching up to do now that I'm back in the game. Whatever comes your way, make sure to always make time for the things you're passionate about, as not everyone gets the opportunity for a second chance!
What advice would you give to other wheelchair athletes?
It may seem like your obstacles are greater than most, but the harder you push, the smaller those obstacles become.
Why work with Sundried?
As a wheelchair tennis athlete, I have a lot more to think about other than my training and the sport while on court. Because of my injury, I can't control my body temperature, so when a match environment is very hot it can be quite dangerous for my health. I love that Sundried offers products with cooling functionality as standard so that I don't need to worry about overheating.
I also believe it's important to work with a brand that shares your values and I acknowledge Sundried for helping to save the environment through their collections that are made from 100% recycled materials, something that is truly unique to the brand and I'm definitely proud to tell everyone that my t-shirt is made from recycled water bottles!