Tennis has 'changed the life' of woman with albinism and visual impairment

Jan Donnelly, visually impaired tennis player and coach
Jan only started playing tennis in 2014, but says it has "changed her life"

Wimbledon puts the sport's biggest stars firmly in the international limelight. But what does tennis mean to those who operate outside of the bright lights?

Jan Donnelly has albinism with photophobia (sensitivity to light) and nystagmusexternal-link, which affects her vision. She says that tennis "has changed her life".

How did you get involved in tennis?

I first got involved in tennis in July 2014. My husband was keen to set a group up in Stockton through his work with (lower limb condition charity) STEPS.external-link

He asked me to go along and I was very reluctant. I was expecting to attend one session just to support him and then bow out.

I went to the first session and I was hooked. I was amazed that I could actually hit the ball! I came away on a high and eagerly awaiting the next session.

Where and how often do you play tennis?

I play at Splash in Stockton every Wednesday and at Northfield School every Tuesday. I try to go to the Northumberland Club and Sunderland Tennis Centre when I can and I have also played a few times at Tennis World in Middlesbrough - when I have the time!

The Tees Valley Sound Tennis group meets every Wednesday at Splash in Stockton-on-Tees. The group began in July in 2014 and has grown from strength to strength.

We now have so many more players attending that we are trying to find a bigger hall to play in!

What benefits have you experienced while participating in tennis as a player, coach or volunteer?

Tennis has given me a real purpose. It is a fantastic hobby that I can't imagine giving up. I have learned so many skills as well as becoming fitter.

It has also brought out a competitive side in me which I never really thought existed! I also love how it has helped others - seeing people grow in confidence and improve their game is incredible.

I have completed my Level One coaching assistant certificate with the help and support of the Tennis Foundation, which is something that I find unbelievable.

To me tennis is about improving my game but also reaching out to more people and this has enabled me to do that - seeing people have fun and progressing gives me such a buzz, which means more to me than anything.

What would you say to people who say 'tennis isn't for me'?

I would say "give it a go". I was one of those people but it really has changed my life.

Tennis may not be for everyone but it is so accessible to the visually impaired. I feel privileged to be a part of such a fantastic game and also to be surrounded by some extremely enthusiastic people both at Splash and the Northumberland Club.

I have surprised my family but most of all myself with my enthusiasm and passion for the game. If I can do it then others can, too!

Finally can you sum up what tennis means to you?

Tennis means different things for different people. For some it is the fun factor whilst for others it is the competitive side.

However, what it truly means is an inclusive game where everyone can join together and play on an equal level.

Tennis has given me a fantastic hobby and confidence in sport, which I would never in my wildest dreams have imagined possible.