Feature | Tennis

Playing tennis with Parkinson’s disease – Andy Wright’s story of friendship, respect, and resilience

How a father of three in his 30s came to terms with the challenge of Parkinson's disease and fell back in love with tennis

By Ed Knowles ·

Andy Wright lives in Nottingham in Great Britain. He started playing tennis as a teenager, and he loved it.

He ended up turning his passion for sports into a full-time job - coaching tennis and working to help local community sports projects find funding through Sport England.

His whole life changed when, age 33, he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease.

It's a progressive nervous system disorder that affects movement. The main symptoms are shaking, slow movement and stiffness.

“I still now have problems with my posture the way I walk,” Andy said to the Olympic Channel Podcast.

“I lean right back and have a really unusual posture that [makes it] difficult to walk.

“And it affects my eyes as well, which is really random.”

The condition meant he stepped away from the sport and left his job.

For more ideas about playing sport with Parkinson’s and ways to help click here.

Andy Wright at the tennis court in Nottingham.

Andy Wright’s reintroduction into tennis

There was no tennis for six years. But, one day, Andy met Tristan Hessing.

Andy was volunteering at a local skatepark and Tristan was having a look around to see if they could collaborate for Tristan’s work.

The local community tennis courts in Nottingham where Andy and Tristan play

Tristan glanced at his watch during the meeting and realised he would have to leave in order to make a tennis game.

Andy’s eyes lit up.

He invited Andy for an informal game at the local community court in Nottingham.

“Anyone can come and have any level of ability,” Tristan said. “It's a way for people to play, come together in a social sense, and have a go playing tennis… no judgments.”

From terrified to terrific – Andy Wright playing tennis with Parkinson’s disease

“I was terrified, to be honest, I really was,” Andy said when he recalls the journey to the court.

“From the beginning [of playing], I couldn't believe how much better I felt on a tennis court.”

Andy left that night feeling reenergised.

Tristan was simply impressed by the standard of tennis Andy was playing.

“It was really astonishing actually seeing [Andy] on court, [with] such fluidity of movement.

“It was a real joy to see, to be honest.”

I think sport is so much more than just trying to win something - Andy's friend Tristan

A realistic view: Parkinson’s and sport

Andy has continued to play and has become good friends with Tristan.

He now plays competitively in local county leagues.

“[You have to] find a way to manage and cope and move forward.

“I hope that's what I've done. I hope I can do it again.”

“I think sport is so much more than just trying to win something,” Tristan added.

“It's about making friends. It's about confidence. It's about mental well-being. It's about your fitness.”

“It's great to talk about mental health, mental wellbeing and things like that,” cautioned Andy.

“[But] if you make it fun, if you make it something people want to do, then that kind of stuff takes care of itself.”

The Olympic Channel Podcast comes out every Wednesday with inspirational interviews that celebrate Olympic values.

At the time of publication, COVID-19 restrictions in England means that tennis activity is currently not permitted for the duration of the national lockdown. For the latest information click here.

The Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) has a dedicated online hub – Tennis at Home – where people can find a host of support and advice to keep active, healthy, and entertained at home. From LTA Youth coaching and educational content to keep children and families busy, to fitness, physio and yoga programmes to support your physical and mental wellbeing whilst working from home: