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Super grandma smiles through luck and life

Such is her energy on the court, the doting grandma tag is not what one would give Janel Manns first up. Sharmistha Chaudhuri reports.

sports Updated: Feb 18, 2012 00:40 IST
Sharmistha Chaudhuri

Such is her energy on the court, the doting grandma tag is not what one would give Janel Manns first up.

Yet, the 42-year-old, who pampers a two-year-old grandson back home in Australia, has a goal — to become one of the youngest grandmothers to win a medal in Paralympics.

“I took up wheelchair tennis when I shifted from Sydney to Port Macquarie (also in New South Wales) about six years back. I used to play a lot of basketball but since it was difficult to do that in the countryside, I decided to take up this sport,” the world No. 38 told Hindustan Times.

Among those in the city to participate in the Asia-Oceania zone wheelchair tennis World Team Cup qualifiers, she is the only one who practices with able-bodied tennis players in her hometown.

Crippling blow
In between appreciating how wheelchair-friendly the Delhi Lawn Tennis Association complex was, Janel recalled how a freak accident left her with a broken back 14 years ago. “I ran on a wet bathroom floor and was just unlucky,” she sighed, settling her short spiked hair.

Tennis is now a job for her. “It's an expensive sport. We handle our own travel, entry fees and equipment expenditures,” says teammate Sarah Calati.

“Tennis Australia has sponsored this Delhi trip because we are representing our country.”

Cost factor
So, how does one follow their passion in this sport when a good customised wheelchair costs about 7000 Australian Dollars (Rs 3.71 lakhs)?

“I teach at college level. When I make enough money to travel during teaching breaks, I try to squeeze in as many tournaments as possible. Once the money dries out, I come back to teach,” explains Janel.

To make things easier, she is given free coaching by her tennis club and her coach doubles up as a fitness expert as gymnasiums are too expensive.

Busy schedule
Having made the shadow squad for the 2012 London Paralympics, Janel now has her attention focused on moving up in the world rankings.

“I reached No. 17 and can do that again,” she says confidently. Only the top 22 female wheelchair tennis players will get direct qualification. So, her calendar is extremely busy till May 21, the cut-off date.

After Delhi, she will head for tournaments in South America and South Africa. The Japan Open, a super series level tournament, will be her last chance to get more ranking points before London.

“It’s now or never. This is a new lease of life and I’m trying to grab all opportunities that come my way,” says a beaming Janel.