When Bally died, I think it is fair to say that I was absolutely devastated. I couldn’t believe the cruel twist that had taken the life of one of the most gentle, warm hearted and funny people I could ever wish to know. Bally was just so grounded and “down to earth” – a quality which helped to make her one of Great Britain’s most successful female tennis players of the Open era.
Not once did Bally complain about anything, the hard grind of a tennis professional, the life on tour or even her chronic liver condition (Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis). She simply got on with Life and took the rough with the smooth in her stride. She was a credit to tennis and to Great Britain.
How could I help to continue her legacy? Well, before she died, she created her own Academy. The Elena Baltacha Academy of Tennis (EBAT) in Ipswich provides the opportunity for youngsters from less privileged backgrounds, to learn to play tennis. I have now had the opportunity to visit the academy and Bally has created something quite extraordinary. Bally’s love of her sport is reflected in the girls and boys who attend the academy. Actually, I cannot find the right words for this, which may surprise some of you because I can usually be relied upon to say what I think.
After Bally’s funeral – I am not afraid to admit that I drove home to Essex with tears streaming down my face (my Spanish friends, one of whom had been a coach to Bally, were in the car with me and they too were in a similar state.) – I knew that I had to do something to help the academy. But what could I do? I mean, I can’t run or anything daft like that, and that seems to be what most people do when they want to raise some money for a good cause…
I joined a running club. A WHAT? I hear you cry – Are you crazy? Well, yes, apparently I am crazy. (With a Twitter name of Crazyduck, that about settles it. No?!) Anyway, to cut to the chase (oops, sorry, Real Tennis terms here, yes I play that game too.) I started going to Parkrun every Saturday morning and then I joined my local running club – Billericay Striders.
On January 3rd, 2015 in the pouring rain I took part in the first 10K run of my 2015 Challenge. This event (I won’t call it a race, because it wasn’t) took place in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and where better to launch a campaign like this, than in the shadows of the Olympic Stadium, in memory of a 2012 Team GB Olympian and the runner just happens to have been a 2012 Games Maker. I splashed and puddle-jumped (and muttered under my breath about why on earth I had thought of anything so crazy) my way around the park for 10K and collected a nice shiny medal (I do like bright shiny objects), a t-shirt and a time of 1:29:30 for the record book.
OK so maybe I can run a bit. I was so proud of myself. I actually managed a 10K run. I didn’t run all the way round, but hey, I had to start somewhere, right? More importantly I was doing something constructive to help future tennis players to learn and enjoy our wonderful game.
Since then, I have done at least 5 more 10K events as well as a handful of 5K. My 10K times have been similar to this one – pretty consistent! I have now completed 3 5K runs in Hyde Park, and this is a venue which holds very special memories for me because some years ago, Bally and I actually ran part of the Hyde Park course together. Of course, she was far too fast for me, and disappeared in a cloud of dust. (I kept up with her for about 500m.) She waited for me at the end of the run and Olga (her Mum) invited me to share some sandwiches with them.
My EBAT colours attract a lot of interest at these race events – I often get complete strangers coming up to me and saying what a worthy cause it is. That in itself is a good reason to run. My latest 10K was actually today (Sunday 7th June) in Finsbury Park. It was organised by “Women’s running” magazine and I am very proud to announce that not only did they ask for my fund-raising story, for publication in their on-line magazine, but I also returned a 10K PB of 1:25:11.
There was a point today when I thought I was not going to complete 10K and for one nanosecond, I thought about stopping after 5K. Of course, I didn’t and that is partly because a little voice in my head which sounded suspiciously like Bally’s, told me that under no circumstances was I going to give in because giving in does not register in the dictionary.
The lure of a nice shiny medal at the end of a run is quite an incentive – now I have a little collection of them and I dedicate them all to Bally. There is no doubt that the running has improved my tennis fitness too, so long may it continue. We are only half way through 2015 and already, because of Bally, I have done things that I never ever thought were possible.
So far I have raised nearly £250 for EBAT through my justgiving page. 2015 is only at half-way stage. The next few months are like this:
June 2015 – South Woodham Ferrers 10K
July 2015 – British 10K (London) and Brentwood 10K
August 2015 – Ipswich 10K (on Bally’s birthday) and hopefully 25K of the London to Cambridge Challenge – this is a WALK!!- over August bank holiday.
October 2015 Royal Parks Half Marathon.
That’s all for now. Watch THIS space!