Last week Macular Society trustee, Paul Ryb, won gold at the world’s International Blind Tennis Tournament in Dublin.
He has been playing the sport for around eight years and has spoken to us in more detail about his latest victory.....
"Since losing my central vision to macular dystrophy 10 years ago I have been on a mission to prove to myself that I can live and succeed with sight-loss, and hopefully help others to do the same. Inspired by the Eddie the Eagle Olympic story, and the Paralympics, I dreamt of representing my country in something one day, but at the age of 47 felt time just might be running out. That is until I got the letter from the British Tennis Foundation earlier this year inviting me to represent GB at the World Takei VI tennis championships in Dublin at the end of April.
"I came across VI tennis after attending a Working Age Macular Society meeting some 9 years ago and honestly was smitten from day one with the energy of the sport. Special thanks must go to Odette Batterol, Amanda Green and Roy Smith MBE who each put so much effort in to driving the growth of the game in those early years firstly under the umbrella of Metro Blind Sports, building the game to such a size that attracted the attention of the British Tennis Foundation. With the Tennis Foundation taking over the development programme for the sport 3 years ago several key regional tournaments were established to aid the development of the National VI tennis pathway, paving the way to the 2018 DLR Takei World VI tennis championships hosted in Dublin, Ireland.
"The great thing about the game is that anyone can play, sighted or not, and for all ages and standards. We play on standard indoor tennis courts with specially adapted sound balls that are larger and slower than normal tennis balls. Under the International Blind Tennis Association rules there are 4 sight categories ranging from B1 (totally blind, receiving 3 bounces on a much reduced orange court surface area), B2 and B3 players receiving 2 bounces playing on a ¾ court size, and B4 for the stronger sighted category playing with only 1 bounce allowed also on a ¾ court size. I play in the B3 category and hold a number of National and Regional titles which qualified me for selection in this most recent World event.
"The Takei World VI Championships was an extraordinary event, showcasing 14 countries and more than 60 players. Hosted by the Shankhill Tennis Centre, the Irish Tennis Federation and managed by IBTA (the international blind tennis association) it was a triumph for all concerned. Played over 5 days, I travelled to Ireland with the rest of my Team GB players, wearing the Team GB tracksuit we received support and applause on the plane after being announced by the AerLingus Stwardess over the microphone. All our costs were met by the British Tennis Foundation, and we got to stay at the prestigious Royal Marine hotel in Dublin where coaches each day bused us down to the tennis centre. There was a real sense of great team spirit from all the country groups, and everyone was there to compete and enjoy the experience.
"The first day was spent under strict rules associated with the sight classification process. IBTA specialists were there to verify all our sight categories to ensure we each competed in our correct categories. Although I am officially classified as a B2 I continue to push myself to play in the stronger sight category of B3, which meant I was put in the strongest line up, requiring I play 5 qualifying matches over the next 3 days. This was both exciting and challenging since I knew from the moment I saw the Mexican hit the ball I was in for a rough ride. I played Mexico, Australia twice, then South Africa and a tough battle with Ireland too to secure 5 wins and top my group, setting myself for a best of 3 set match final against Mexico.
"Having beaten him once I knew he wanted revenge and we were in store for a long battle that took 1.5hours to complete but I knew once I got my nose ahead in the second set I could close him out. Wining was such a relief and a personal triumph, but the entire Team GB excelled. Testimony to the development programme in the UK we won 7 out of the 8 categories.
"For anyone interested in trying out the sport there are numerous ways to go: contact the British Tennis Foundation, British Blind Sports, or Metro Blind Sports, check us out on YouTube, but do come along and try out the game, or any one of the other VI sports on offer.
"If there is one piece of advice I can offer along my own sight loss journey, it is never turn down an offer for peer support from the Macular Society, and do go along to meet the VI community since you will find like-minded people who have already wrestled with the sight loss journey and be of invaluable support to you on your own. I am so grateful to all those that I have met along the way who have offered me advice and support. The key is you must go looking for that advice and be open to exploring and trying things out. Today VIs have the technology to help us live better lives and sport helps us live healthier and happier lives too.
"Do not let your sight loss restrict you or define you."