Macular Society trustee, Paul Ryb, is one of eight British visually-impaired (VI) tennis players who have been selected to take part in the International Blind Tennis Tournament.
Paul, who is the former British number one VI tennis player, will be representing the nation at the championship in Dublin later this month.
He said: “I am incredibly excited. VI tennis has grown exponentially over the last few years and it’s great progress for the sport.”
The former investment banker, who was diagnosed with Stargardt in 2007, aged 37, first found out about the sport when he visited a Macular Society support group in the first few years of his diagnosis. At the group one of the founders of the sport was that month’s guest speaker. Paul said: “She was so passionate about the sport it inspired me to take part.”
Paul has now been playing tennis for around eight years and was crowned British number one in 2013. Although he successfully defended his title for three years, he lost his ranking in 2016 to Chris Baily.
He said: “I’m a competitive chap. When I was younger I wouldn’t say I excelled at sport, but I loved it and I loved to compete. I always enjoyed playing tennis but wouldn’t say I was particularly good at it. My younger brother was much better than me. I never considered myself a great or good player, I just enjoyed it.”
He added: “What happens when you have sight loss at 37 is that you’re looking for new challenge to prove you can compete and that you can get on with everything.”
When he first started competing Paul admitted he was frustrated by the fact he wasn’t winning. “It was all down to fitness and technique,” he said. So he decided to take up kickboxing, in a bid to improve his agility and ultimately to start winning.
He said: “I’ve been doing it for seven years now and have progressed to a black belt. It’s great for fitness and agility.”
The 48-year-old has described VI tennis as a cross between squash and badminton. The game originated in Japan, and was pioneered in the U.K. by Odette Batterol and Metro Blind Sport. It is played on a smaller court than usual, with a lower net. An audible ball is also used so players can hear it bounce. Depending on their sight, players are allowed between two and three bounces before returning the ball.
Paul said: “You can’t see where your opponent’s racquet is facing and you can only see them as a blob on the other side of the court. When you hear the ball bounce you have to move as quickly as you can to return the ball. It’s exhausting.”
But, while Paul enjoys the competition and is looking forward to travelling to the sport’s first international championship as part of Team GB, he also hopes it will help raise awareness of visual impairment.
He said: “No one really understands what it means to be visually impaired and there are lots of misconceptions. It’s incredibly debilitating. It restricts you in day-to-day functions, but because you don’t walk around with dark sunglasses or a white cane people don’t see you as blind.
He added: “This will be a good chance to help educate people about the challenges of partial sight.”
The three-day tournament, organised by the International Blind Tennis Association, will take place from 26 to 29 April in Dublin and will see more than 60 players from 14 different countries taking to the court.