Monday 20 August 2018

Inspiring blind tennis players take on the world

Blind tennis player and Irish Captain David Mason is taking part in the Blind Tennis World Championships this weekend at Shankill Tennis Club. Photos: Tony Gavin
Blind tennis player and Irish Captain David Mason is taking part in the Blind Tennis World Championships this weekend at Shankill Tennis Club. Photos: Tony Gavin
Blind tennis player Helena Mollaghan is taking part in the Blind Tennis World Championships this weekend at Shankill Tennis Club. Photos: Tony Gavin

Alan O'Keeffe

Helena Mollaghan is thrilled to be playing for Ireland in the Blind Tennis World Championships this weekend.

The 21-year-old and her guide dog Alfie went to Shankill in Co Dublin where the local tennis club is hosting the international event.

She has been battling the best blind players from a dozen countries.

"I love the freedom of movement it gives me. It's incredibly fast," said Helena.

The tennis balls are bigger and softer than regular tennis balls. They have a little bell inside them which rattles when they bounce or when they are struck with a racket.

The competitors play on regular sized tennis courts with slightly raised lines on the ground. These lines are used to navigate and help players to know their positions on the court.

Blind players listen intently for the rattle sound inside the ball when it is struck and when it bounces. Players move fast to hit the ball back over the net.

"When I tried blind tennis at first, I couldn't get over how much I enjoyed it," said Helena, a native of Leitrim living in Blackrock in Dublin.

Players compete against competitors with the same level of disability.

Around 40pc of players are totally blind and are classed as 'B1' which means the ball is allowed to bounce three times before being hit back.

"I'm a 'B4' player so the ball is allowed to bounce only once in my games," said Helena. "I have no peripheral vision so it's very easy for the ball to go outside my range of vision. I'm totally dependant on my hearing," she said.

Rosine Pybus (26), competing for Great Britain, said: "Blind tennis has given me my life. I wouldn't be who I am without it.

"It's given me such confidence. It gives me a reason to wake up in the morning. It inspires me to be the best version of me."

Ireland's captain is David Mason (36) from Blackrock in Dublin and he plays in the B2 class.

He played tennis as a child but was hit by retinitis pigmentosa blindness at the age of 14. "I've been playing for two years. From the first bounce I try to estimate the trajectory of the ball and I run towards the sound. Blind tennis is very sociable and it's great to be part of a club. The support we get to play is unbelievable," he said.

David, who works as a quality and compliance analyst at a Sky TV call centre, fought his way to the quarter-finals of the world championships in Spain last year.

Blind tennis is new in Ireland. It was created by Mr Miyoshi Takei in Japan in 1984.

Three years ago, Liam O'Donohoe, who is president of Leinster Tennis, felt that the sport he was passionate about should be accessible to blind people.

He is a former chairman of Shankill Tennis Club in south Dublin.

Blind Tennis was officially introduced to Ireland back in 2016 by Tennis Ireland and Vision Sports Ireland at Shankill Tennis Club where the new three-court indoor centre is hosting the world championships.

Blind Tennis receives funding from Sport Ireland and operates in three centres in Dublin, two centres in Belfast, as well as in Navan, Sligo and Cork.

Sunday Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News