Janet Irwin hits a serve under the eyes of her coach Phil Beckman at Hotshots tennis at the Grafton Tennis Courts.
Janet Irwin hits a serve under the eyes of her coach Phil Beckman at Hotshots tennis at the Grafton Tennis Courts. Adam Hourigan

Tennis serves up new sense of freedom for Janet

TENNIS: At first, Jim Irwin wasn't sure that tennis was right for his daughter Janet.

Janet was born with Sotos syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that causes low muscle tone and inco-ordination.

The doctors told Jim that she would struggle at school, let alone ever play tennis.

It was a chance encounter when Grafton City Tennis coach Phil Beckman saw Janet while her older sisters were playing tennis that Phil said he might be able to help.

Three years of tennis coaching later and Jim said it's the best thing to ever happen to Janet.

"It's been the biggest help out of any of the professionals she's ever visited," he said.

"Tennis has given her strength in her arms and her legs.

"It's taken her a number of years, and over the years she has developed to the stage where she can play a game of normal tennis.

"It gives her the self confidence and a goal to reach."

 

Janet Irwin is all eyes on the ball as she serves at Hotshots tennis at the Grafton Tennis Courts.
Janet Irwin is all eyes on the ball as she serves at Hotshots tennis at the Grafton Tennis Courts. Adam Hourigan

Jim said at first they had no idea tennis was having such a wide ranging impact on Janet's life.

"At the start, playing tennis was just helping her physically and gave her something fun to do, she enjoyed playing the game and going to training," he said.

"When she first started to hit the ball we noticed her writing and colouring in was better, then her walking was better.

"All these little things started to add up and they make a big difference.

"One of the symptoms of the syndrome is the lack of co-ordination with her body, she can't control her body in the same way, but through playing tennis she is learning how to control her body.

"The gradual improvement has given her the determination to stick with things, and it gave her focus when learning a new skill so she knows there is light at the end of the tunnel."

Jim said St Mary's Primary School have been doing a wonderful job helping with her studies and education, and the improvement has been noticed at school.

Beckman said he was amazed at Janet's progress over the past three years.

"When I first started coaching her, she had trouble with her co-ordination, it was basically non-existent," he said.

"I'd just get her at the net and hold up the racket and throw the ball at the racket to give her the sensation of hitting the ball, and then we progressed from there.

"I'm very proud, she's an amazing girl and playing tennis has certainly given her confidence and skills for life, it's been a life changing experience."

Janet recently achieved one of her tennis goals, and played in the Hot Shots competition.

Jim said she was excited to be a part of the competition, and won both her games.

"I always say for a lot of disabled kids, their parents might not really consider something like tennis, but the parents don't know what the kids could miss out on," he said.



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