Grant Evatt meets Team GB Wheelchair Tennis ace Jamie Burdekin

The Nottingham Indoor Tennis Tournament held this week at the City of Nottingham Indoor Tennis Centre saw our former Royal Marine and Paralympian Jamie Burdekin face tough tests against some worthy opponents in the Men’s Quad Singles in which he is 4th seed and the Doubles in which he is seeded 1st.

The pairing of Jamie and Andy Lapthorn, British Number 1’s in the Quad event, has proven to be a master stroke for Team GB and the duo have been training and competing hard in their readiness for next year’s Rio Games.

Before his quarter finals match in the singles today against James Shaw I spoke with Jamie about what it means to compete at this high level. Graciously modest and unassuming, he candidly gave me insight into a life few get to experience.

‘It gives me a massive lift; something to aim for. I’m playing against the world’s best.  Tennis gives me that chance to test myself at an elite level. Before my injury I guess I wasn’t taking life too seriously. I was young so I guess that’s probably quite normal. After the accident I vowed that I would challenge myself and not give up. That mindset stays with me today and pushes me on in this sport.’

Many of us are ignorant of the demands of professional disabled sport so I asked him, what motivates someone to take up that challenge you describe?

‘I have an abiding memory of Gemma, who was sat beside me in the back seat of the car we were travelling in that day.  I was the last person she saw before her life was taken.  Afterwards, I have become almost an adopted son to her family.  They are very proud of me and we exchange gifts on birthdays and things like that. They in turn mean a lot to me.  I was just a normal lad going though life, proud to be a Royal Marine and then wham.  That changed in an instant.  I am so grateful to have been given this chance. To live on and to be a success, hopefully. I really want that Olympic medal next year and I hope I can make Gemma’s family proud and bring one back’

These heartfelt words as we sat together outside the courts caused me to ask, what do you miss?

‘The simple things really. Playing football with my son, fooling around…all the stuff a dad does with his boy.  Then you have the more mundane everyday tasks which are much more of an effort, such as filling your car up with petrol, or going to a cashpoint machine – a drive in would be great! In the early days after my injury the vanity affected me. People can’t help but stop and stare and I used to think, what are you looking at. Now though I have grown up and shed such thoughts. Today there are so many more people much worse off than me.  When you think of all those poor lads killed or seriously injured fighting for their country. It puts all of this into perspective doesn’t it?’

After this tournament Jamie will enjoy a period of rest with his family back home in Liverpool. His girlfriend Kelly, son Daniel aged 9 and little girl Beau aged just 15 months. It must be hard on them, I ask.

‘I hate leaving them.  It’s gut wrenching.  I live my life now in their eyes and so when I am away, it’s tough.  When I come home they won’t leave me for a second, clinging on to daddy before he has to leave again.  I know this is what I have chosen to do, but, it’s still hard.  So when I am home I try to spend as much time with them as possible. Kelly and I have a big extended family in Liverpool and they continue to be a great support to us.’

Can he afford the gluttony that Christmas now means? Does he have to be careful of what he eats and drinks?

‘I have to be disciplined.  In the weeks running up to a tournament I detox myself of caffeine, added sugars and all alcohol.  In fact from January I will be dry all the way until Rio2016, which will be my last major tournament.  I am  fully committed.  After this competition I will have a couple of weeks rest with the family.  A night out for me and Kelly is now a nice meal and a bottle of wine.  Other parents with young kids will understand that.  Then, I am full on training for tournaments in Australia in the New Year.  The first in Brisbane and then Sydney so no blow outs for me sadly. I enjoy a positive lifestyle. I am still hungry for more success and I am more ambitious then I ever was when I was younger.’

Jamie won his match in straight sets 6-2 6-0. Afterwards in his same self depreciating manner he criticised himself for losing the 2 games. ‘I’m my own worst critic. It’s the short rallies I don’t like, harder to find your rhythm but I won the points that mattered.  It will be a hard match tomorrow against World Number 2 Sithole from South Africa but I’m well up for it’

Focus and dedication to make the grade in any competitive sport is beyond the reach of most of us. Factor in the physical disability that Jamie faces on a daily basis, you are left in awe of his achievements.

My fiancé sent me a text message during the match: “I hope he wins.”

“All winners” I replied

I dare to hope and wish that Rio 2016 brings much joy and success to Jamie and his family.

G Evatt

Hilary Meredith Solicitors is proud to sponsor Jamie Burdekin.