This story is part of 30 Under 30.
Jordanne Whiley is a Paralympian, eight time Grand Slam champion and Britain’s most decorated female tennis player of all time. She was born with osteogenesis, more commonly know as brittle bone disease.
With Rio 2016 fast approaching, Jordanne is training hard in the hopes of getting double gold. As part of 30 Under 30, she talks about how she got into tennis, role models and her other passion in life, singing.
When I was three years old, my dad took me out to Israel because he was competing in a tennis tournament. I was just going out with my mum and he was playing a match one day and I just wanted to play tennis but obviously I couldn’t. My dad’s friend gave me a racket and ball and I just started hitting it. Then it was all over Israeli news and newspapers. Basically, it all just kicked off because I was three, in a wheelchair with my legs in plaster playing tennis.
I became professional around the time I was 16. I’d just qualified for Beijing Paralympics and I wasn’t expected to but I got the wild card. I actually qualified on my sixteenth birthday so that was a nice surprise! When I came back I quit academic studies and became a professional tennis player.
Tennis is such a great game. You have fun and the social life is great. It really helps you become comfortable with your impairment as you meet loads of different disabled people. It can really help you accept yourself.
When I was growing up, I didn’t really have any role models to look up to. I don’t really like looking up to celebrities and people like that because I don’t know them. They could turn out to be something they’re not.
If I looked up to anyone, I’d want them to be a real person, not a celebrity. For example, I had my dad for a lot of it, he was my coach until I was 12 and both of my parents were very supportive of my career. It was kind of like just me and them for a very long time.
Some people say I’m contradicting myself because they think I’m a celebrity role model. But I don’t see myself as that. I don’t own 300 Bentleys and live in an 80 room mansion, I’m a real person. What I say and what I do is always from a real person’s point of view. I’m not interested in becoming famous, I just want to influence, help and inspire people.
Being comfortable in your own skin
I’m disabled and don’t look like Paris Hilton but I’m successful. It doesn’t matter who you are, what background you’re from, what shape and size you are, you can still be successful. You don’t have to look a certain way to fit into society.
Don’t dwell on things you can’t change and focus on the things you can change, like your success in your field or your attitude towards other people or yourself. I would like to help people see that.
If you listen to my story, I was bullied in school quite badly, I never grew to five foot and I don’t have nice legs. But I don’t worry about any of that because I can’t change that. When you do put that to one side and just focus on the things that matter, it’s so much better. Just focus on doing something you love. You might want to dance but you don’t think you’ve got the body to dance. If that’s what makes you happy, just go and dance. Who cares what people think?
Life outside of tennis
Monday to Friday, I train from about 10am-4pm. I get home late evening and then I’m pretty knackered to be honest! I do cook and bake a lot and if I have the time, I do grow my own vegetables. I just like doing normal, domestic stuff.
I’ve sung my whole life. There’s videos of me as a kid singing Spice Girls when I was five or six. When I was in my teens, I was obsessed with Shakira so I only used to sing her songs. As I grew up and my voice developed, it developed like Shakira’s voice! I’d really like to get into singing a bit more as I love it.
I wrote my own song about my boyfriend. For Christmas he bought me a package to go and record it professionally and put it on iTunes. It turned out a lot better than I thought it would. The song is actually really good. It’s kind of similar to Lukas Graham’s “Seven Years”. It’s not mushy, it’s about a real life relationship.
Keep a look out for Jordanne’s track on iTunes.
Jordanne is sharing her story as part of our 30 Under 30 campaign. We are releasing one story a day throughout June from disabled people under 30 who are doing extraordinary things. Read other stories from 30 Under 30.
To find out more about stories and how they are at the heart of everything we do at Scope, visit our new Stories hub.
Featured image courtesy of The Tennis Foundation.