Blackfinch is backing Amalia Widdowson, a talented ten-year-old tennis player from Gloucester. Despite a diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes she received at age three, Amalia is training hard and winning matches, with the support of Oliver, her father and coach.
Full of determination, and passionately dedicated to her sport, Amalia is an inspiration to everyone with hopes and ambitions. Her enthusiasm for tennis and belief in herself, yet with humility as a person and player, shone through when she met with us. We discussed her experiences and how she manages her time and condition to continue succeeding through adversity.
How did you get started playing tennis?
When I was a baby, if my parents rolled me a ball, I used to try and hit it rather than pushing it back. My favourite earliest memories are of being in the living room hitting balloons at my Dad. I also remember going for my first mini-tennis lesson with him at age two – I carried everything in a ‘Hello Kitty’ bag.
What is it you like about tennis; that has kept you training at it?
(Amalia’s face lights up in talking about this.) I love tennis. I think it’s a really great sport. It’s fun and supportive and it’s not rough. It’s tactical. And I really enjoy competing. I’m different when I’m playing to when I’m training. My Dad and I always joke that I’m like a tiger when I’m training and a tiger in a bad mood during a match!
How has your diabetes diagnosis affected your approach?
I have a really useful mobile app that tracks everything and then bluetooths the amount of insulin I need to a pump to administer it. (Amalia demonstrates this when she has some hot chocolate and biscuits during our talk.)
And at matches my Dad is always there to help. I also always bring Lucozade with me to keep my energy up. If I feel like I’m going to faint then I have to stop the match and rest until I’m ready to resume. I know this can often irritate other players or sometimes people think it’s tactics.
Outside tennis, the biggest challenge is the alarms we have to set at night. I often sleep through them. We now have a sensor alarm which helps, but my parents still have to wake up every 2¼ hours to check on me.
On an overnight school trip recently, my teachers realised what my parents go through. Apparently I was talking about the alarm in my sleep (makes a sleeping face and waves hands) while holding the wrong bits of the machine, saying, “it will work!”
What’s your typical schedule in terms managing school and training?
I train throughout the week. At the moment, as I have a tournament coming up, on Fridays we get up at 5am and leave at 5.30am to travel to Bath for training. I’m there from 7-9am. Then from 10.30am, I’m at school for the day. I really appreciate that my school is supportive of me playing tennis.
After school I train for another 1½ hours. In the evenings I do my homework and sometimes watch tennis on TV, though not too much anymore. My Dad encourages me to watch programs that are not tennis focused.
How do you manage all the challenges and sacrifices needed to succeed?
I enjoy working hard. And I do like school, because I like learning. So I feel it’s a shame to miss out, especially on English which is my favourite subject. I love writing stories. (Amalia proudly produces her diary, a book filled with pages of her writing about tennis playing.) But I tell myself that I’m lucky to be doing something that other children wouldn’t have the chance to experience.
What’s it like having your Dad as your coach?
(Amalia’s Dad jokes about leaving the room at this point. But, reflecting their relationship, Amalia is just as confident answering this question as any other.) He is really helpful, especially with my technique. And he always pushes me to improve. This includes when we’re watching tennis on TV – he’ll point things out and remind me what I need to do.
He’s stricter with me than another coach might be though. But overall we don’t have that many disagreements. I know he wants the best for me. And he is a really good coach, so I know I’m really lucky.
Is there anyone who inspires you?
I’m inspired by Bradley Wiggins’ story. When he was young, no matter how hard it was for him, no matter if he was bullied at school, he was always in his cycling gear, always on his bike, always training and never stopped.
I always look to have that kind of attitude as a player, being consistent and never wavering, no matter what other people say or do. I have been bullied in the past but even if I have difficult experiences, I always want to come out of them stronger. (Amalia speaks movingly on this, yet always with measured responses that reflect her approach – she has clearly developed her own way to deal with these challenges.)
What are your long-term goals as a player?
In ten years’ time I aim to be at Wimbledon. I have always dreamt of it. A closer goal is the Tarbes tournament in Lourdes, France, to play in the under 14s age group in about four years’ time.
How would you like Blackfinch to help you with your goals?
It’s good, knowing that everyone at Blackfinch is backing me. And as I continue competing it’s going to be another layer of support. That’s important and it will help a lot. The funding and the goodwill are things I will be able to take with me as I continue training, and travelling for matches. And I’m looking forward to Blackfinch helping me with my kit, from getting involved in designs to wearing the finished product.
What’s your advice for others with a goal they’re working towards?
I believe that anyone can achieve their goals. If you put their mind to it and work for it, if you’re committed and you stay with your goal, you can get there.