A year ago this week Worthing wheelchair tennis star Lauren Jones won the most recent of more than 30 career titles, but after what she describes as a ‘busy and intense lockdown’, the 25-year-old three-time National champion believes she is stronger than ever and is excited for the future as she eyes further success.
The LTA’s Nottingham Futures tournament last July brought Jones her first singles title and her second doubles title since being diagnosed with Crohn’s disease at the start of 2019. However, with the support of her national governing body, Jones and her team have been able to maximise the opportunities presented by the last few months. Jones says:
“It’s been a busy few months, but with lots of positive things that will just allow me to push on when I’m back to full-time competition and training.
“The support from the LTA was incredible and a really good opportunity for the players and staff to come together.
“I was sent a range of equipment to help me train, including an FK Pro suspension training system and a pull-up bar, but the big thing for me was the set of wheelchair rollers I got. I’ve been able to base my pushing fitness programme on the rollers and then mix that up with hill sprints in my tennis chair when it’s been quiet around the local golf courses and country roads.”
No stranger to challenges, Jones was paralysed after falling out of a tree age the age of 13, in 2009. Ten years later she was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease and underwent major surgery for the condition early in 2019. She adds:
“We identified at that start of lockdown that this would be an extended break from tennis and therefore asked how best we could make the most of the time and one of those things was to focus on my health and getting me stronger and fitter. I’m more aware now of what upsets my Crohn’s and learning more about my body, because it is a chronic illness and I’ve had to adapt my training.
“I’ve been quite high risk as I’m on medication for the Crohn’s that are immunosuppressants, so they make my immune system worse, so I got out of London quickly and came back to Worthing and to the country.
“For the first few weeks I even isolated from my parents, too, so we had the house split in half and since then I’ve been living with my mum and dad, my brother and our respective girlfriends. They’ve all made sure I’ve been kept away from anything potentially harmful.”
While unable to be competitive on court during lockdown, Jones has seen multiple gains during her three-month strength and conditioning programme devised by her own team with input from the LTA’s strength and conditioning coach. She continues:
“My main aim has been to strengthen my back to help with preventing arm and shoulder injuries and there’s been a noticeable difference in terms of my muscle bulk. Bulking up was the plan and my hill sprint times have improved week-on-week. The resistance pushing has been a big focus.”
Having moved from London back to her parents’ home in Worthing, the Tennis Sussex ambassador is hoping to be able to return to the capital in the near future. But, in the meantime, the former world No.1 junior has been grateful for the support of a local West Sussex tennis facility.
“I got back on court about three weeks ago and introduced three sessions a week at Billingshurst Tennis Club. whose club house I actually opened back in 2014 after becoming world No.1 junior the years before.We’ve had a relationship since then and they’ve really stepped in and helped me out. “I’ve been mixing the on-court sessions with continuing my strength and condition sessions two days a week. The plan has been to build up the tennis so that I can go back to full-time training.”
With Jones maintaining her dream of earning qualification for the Tokyo Paralympics, lockdown has also enabled her to continue working on her mental strength, which she believes will play a big part as she bids to move back towards her career-best ranking at No.24, which she achieved in 2017. Currently world ranked No.44, Jones says:
“Lockdown didn’t come at an idle time for any of us and I’d already started working with a psychologist quite a while before, focusing on the mental side of my game. I’ve shown that I have the technical ability and shown that I am a talented player but have maybe held myself back by being a perfectionist and being too hard on myself.
“So, when lockdown came it was disappointing, but I’ve continued to use all the same principles. I’m excited to get back to full-time training and continue where we left off and just need a prolonged period on tour now, whenever we are able to start competing again. For now, I’m looking forward to introducing match play to my training. But I’m not in any massive rush, I’ll do so when it’s safe and when it’s the right time and just make the most of my training at home in the meantime.”
Before her accident in 2009, Jones had dreams of playing football for England and had already played for Brighton and Hove Albion as a junior. Being back in Worthing has enabled her to continue nurturing relationships made in her come county, as well as looking further afield and building what she believes is a key partnership in the football community. She says:
“I’ve been working with a company based in Worthing to launch my new website. We first met around 2013 or 2014 and they offered to support and sponsor me. So lockdown has given us the chance to focus on what we really wanted to include on the new website and in conjunction with new partners and sponsors and it’s been the perfect time to bring it all together. Among those new partners is Rangers football club.
“I’ve made it clear from the beginning that I grew up as a Reading supporter and remain so to this day, but the Rangers family have all been so lovely and have really been inspired my story and I see it as a relationship that can only help to spread the word about wheelchair tennis and I’m really happy to be a part of that.”
To learn more about Lauren Jones’s story and to continue to follow her wheelchair tennis journey, visit her new website at https://laurenjones.online/.