Despite an impressive, two decade career which has brought her enormous success, there is no letting up for Lucy Shuker. This gutsy wheelchair tennis player, who has achieved career best World rankings of 5 in singles and 3 in doubles, relishes the challenges that her disability, which was caused by a motorbike accident back in 2001, gives her.
It was a bizarre thing,” she recalls. “In a heartbeat my life changed. I had no concept of what that involved; I was just there one day, in a hospital wheelchair with my spinal cord severed. At that moment I didn’t know where life would be heading until I met former quad wheelchair player, Pete Norfolk. He loaned me a tennis chair and got me on to court Lucy Shuker
“Hand on heart I feel very fortunate to do something every day that I absolutely love,” she says. “I love the game of tennis, from the training to the competitions. I love the challenge of the game and the additional challenge of my disability and trying to find new ways to be the best version of me that I can be.”
Being paralysed from the chest down is the nightmare scenario for any young athlete, but Lucy is pragmatic in recalling that life-changing moment in her life.
“It was a bizarre thing,” she recalls. “In a heartbeat my life changed. I had no concept of what that involved; I was just there one day, in a hospital wheelchair with my spinal cord severed.
“At that moment I didn’t know where life would be heading until I met former quad wheelchair player, Pete Norfolk. He loaned me a tennis chair and got me on to court.
“And with the support of my parents after 10 months in hospital, I re-learnt how to live the basics – washing, getting dressed and everyday tasks. My family have been amazing throughout.
“At the time, mum pretty much lived at the hospital during the week. When I was discharged, I had to learn to live with my disability, the risks of pressure sores and just generally being extremely careful about looking after my body.”
All of that family support has paid off handsomely, not least in her career, the highlight of which was undoubtedly the London Paralympics in 2012, where she made history alongside fellow Brit, Jordanne Whiley, the pair becoming the first women to win a medal for Great Britain in wheelchair tennis.
Eight years on, Lucy, now 40, is looking to participate in her fourth Paralympics in Tokyo next year, and build on the two medals she has achieved to date. In addition, there is Wimbledon, and her four finals to date. What is her priority, I wonder?
“I’m not sure, to be honest. I would love to win Gold in Tokyo. The Paralympics are once every four years, a once in a lifetime opportunity to represent your country as well as yourself; that’s a real honour.
“But in tennis everyone wants to win a Grand Slam – and it’s really hard on the grass. When you push on grass its incredibly difficult – you don’t roll and you have to keep pushing – the physical demands are so much harder.”
Lockdown has had its challenges for all Paralympians and Lucy is no exception. She was fortunate to be able to utilise a tennis court at local school, St Nicholas School in Fleet during lockdown, but once her training was done, she continued to keep herself occupied with family challenges and other activities.
“I’ve been doing some kayaking – and I haven’t fallen in! We also created a family art challenge on Facebook, which has been fun. We pick a topic such as flowers, plants and landscapes and then we all submit entries and vote for our favourites. I’ve watched some good films too.”
Lucy is remarkably upbeat and oozes positivity about life despite what most of us would consider insurmountable hurdles. She looks to the future with optimism but she is also a realist and knows that coming out of lockdown will be hard, not least in meeting the financial challenges that she and her fellow wheelchair athletes face.
Getting her back on to the Tour requires financial support and the generosity of companies and organisations donating money, something which has kept her going throughout her career.
“In any disability sport it’s tough to get financial support. All athletes are fighting for an ever decreasing pot of money. I started out fundraising to buy my first tennis chair and raise money even just to train.”
Lucy is one of 14 wheelchair athletes supported by Path for Success.
“They have been very generous financially as well as helping to try and raise our profiles as athletes. I am also fortunate to have support from wheelchair manufacturer, RGK and Wilson Tennis.”
Whatever the future holds for Lucy, you can be sure that her infectiously positive demeanour will bring benefits to the sport she loves and champions.
“Wheelchair tennis has given me some fantastic opportunities,” she enthuses. “I’ve travelled the world and met so many incredible people as a result of my disability. Before my accident I was very sporty and enjoyed a number of sports. In particular I played badminton to quite a high level, so yes I guess I have always had a competitive streak.”
For British wheelchair tennis, long may it continue.