Parenting

Jordanne Whiley: Wheelchair tennis champion on motherhood and having it all


Jordanne Whiley at Wimbledon 2019 (Picture: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Jordanne Whiley was the first British woman to win a Grand Slam wheelchair singles title at the 2015 US Open, she has 12 Grand Slam titles to her name in total, but one of the biggest challenges Jordanne has faced is motherhood.

Jordanne – who has brittle bone disease – made it back to the top of her game after giving birth to her first son Jackson, and like so many elite female athletes, she also has a professional career alongside her sport – she’s a mortgage broker.

How on earth does the 28-year-old do it all? And how does she have the energy to keep pushing for greatness?

For Jordanne, it all comes down to passion and belief.

‘I do refer to myself as a bit of a boss woman,’ Jordanne tells Metro.co.uk.

‘I think I have a healthy balance of being a loving mum and being all squishy with him and loving him no matter what because he is my number one, but I’m also a strong, independent, ambitious woman.

‘I want to achieve a million things in my life and be a great role model for him and my future children, but also to show that I’m doing incredible things whilst being a mum and that you don’t have to sacrifice one for the other.

‘You can still live your dreams and aspirations whilst being a mum.’

Jordanne, who lives in Steventon, Oxfordshire, first got into wheelchair tennis when she was just 3-years-old.

Her dad, a former Paralympian himself, took Jordanne to a tennis tournament in Israel. She started hitting the ball with a little racket to pass the time and was awarded a trophy for being the youngest person they had ever seen playing the sport. From there she started attending talent spotting camps and her career began to bloom.

‘Tennis has given me a lot, to be honest.’ (Picture: Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images)

‘I love the competition aspect of tennis – I always have done,’ says Jordanne. ‘I’m not a massive fan of training, but I understand you can’t have one without the other!

‘When I was younger I didn’t have too many friends and I was very skinny, due to my condition, and I wasn’t very strong.

‘Ever since I turned pro with tennis, it has helped give me an athletic body, a healthy lifestyle and get new friends. I’ve been able to travel the world and experience different cultures, different languages and obviously play for my country.

‘Tennis has given me a lot, to be honest.’

As a disabled athlete, one of the biggest challenges Jordanne has faced is raising awareness about wheelchair tennis. She says it’s frustrating when she tells people what she does and they have never even heard of her sport.

‘I tell them I play wheelchair tennis and people have been like, “I don’t know what that is” or they haven’t seen it, or think it’s played on a smaller court,’ she says.

‘Obviously that has changed over the years, and now it’s become more and more well-known, thanks to the Paralympics in London, which I think was the catalyst for that.

‘I always think back to when I was younger. Being born with brittle bones disease is tough – I was breaking bones up until the age of about 12. I was still playing tennis then, so I had to miss out on a lot of school and tennis to be in hospital.’

Jordanne believes that awareness is key. Making disability sport more accessible and easier to watch will generate more interest that will help athletes like her to keep going.

‘It is getting better, we are getting streamed a lot more, especially at the Grand Slams where people can watch us on the red button, or on Amazon Prime,’ she explains. ‘Wimbledon has now started to show the finals live on the BBC, which is incredible, so I think we’re heading in the right direction – but there’s still much more we could do.

Jordanne and Yui Kamiji play in Wheelchair Doubles Final at the 2020 Australian Open (Picture: Mike Owen/Getty Images)

‘For us, it’s so important to get fans and sponsorship, not only for individuals but for the tournaments themselves as well so we can get more prize money and make a proper living out of what we do.’

Without generating a sustainable income through sport alone, Jordanne’s life has become an intricate juggling act. Not only is she training to an elite standard and competing all around the world, but Jordanne also has a career in property and, of course, she’s a mum.

‘It’s hard but the main reason I’m able to do it is that I have an amazing support network around me,’ she tells us.

‘My fiancé predominantly works from home so he can help a lot whilst I’m training or I’m away or working – whatever it needs to be. My mum and dad are both retired so they sometimes have Jackson for a few days a week and then he also goes to nursery, but that will all change when he starts going to school soon.’

Jordanne qualified as a mortgage broker earlier this year and she’s working as a self-employed mortgage advisor around her tennis. She says that building success outside of the tennis world is vital for her future.

‘I really wanted to get my foot in the door to set me up for after Tokyo,’ she says. ‘Obviously, Tokyo was supposed to be this year and I wasn’t really willing to postpone my other career for another year as well because I wanted to keep my mind in it – and not forget everything that I had learned.

‘It works really well as I don’t train on Wednesdays so I can go to the office, and also on Fridays after my early session.

‘But it’s not like I do all these things and then don’t get to see Jackson – I often train early during the week so I can come home and spend the rest of the day with him and we get to do a lot of stuff together. It’s a really nice balance.’

It might sound exhausting, but Jordanne believes that she is really close to having it all. But one area where she says she has had to make real sacrifices over the years is in her social life.

‘My whole life I’ve been doing tennis full-time and now I’m super busy,’ she says.

‘I didn’t go to university or anything, so I didn’t make those friends there and I wasn’t exactly popular in school so I kind of missed out on that childhood friendship side.

‘Obviously I got to go out to clubs and stuff when I was 18, but I have never had time to do much more than that.’

This might be one of the reasons why Jordanne struggled with mental health issues in 2011. She says it was one of the hardest times in her career and it lasted for around two years in total.

‘It was right before the London Paralympics, which made it really difficult just to play tennis,’ says Jordanne.

‘I was in a crowd of wrong people and I was in a relationship that triggered that, but I got the help I needed and had amazing support around me again.

‘Another hard time was in Rio when I felt like I was really one of the favourites to finish on the singles podium.

‘I felt like I was in really good shape, playing amazing tennis, and then in the quarter-final round of the singles I broke my wrist and I wasn’t able to compete.

‘It broke my heart and it took me quite a while to get over that.’

Heartbreak is an inevitable part of elite sport. Missing out on that top position is a feeling that every athlete will know only too well. But at the other end of the spectrum is the mind-blowing high of success, and Jordanne has experienced more than her fair share of this, too.

‘Winning the bronze medal in the doubles at London 2012 was one of the greatest moments,’ she says. ‘Not because I played well, because I didn’t, but just the fact that we won a medal, even with me playing that badly!

‘It was also Great Britain’s first medal that had ever been won in the wheelchair tennis women’s division. It was a history-making moment at our home games, something I’ll probably never see in my lifetime again.

‘Another moment was when I won the calendar Grand Slam with Yui Kamiji in 2014, which was another unprecedented achievement.

‘Those two memories will be the highlights for the rest of my life.’

Jordanne Whiley is supported by the LTA Wheelchair Tennis World Class Programme. Find out more about how to get involved with disability tennis through the LTA Open Court Programme.

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Get in touch: metrolifestyleteam@metro.co.uk.

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