My husband's dementia fight: tennis legend Christine Truman Janes on partner's 'slippery road' to illness
In a wide-ranging interview, 1950s, 60s and 70s tennis star Christine Truman Janes – who today lives in Aldeburgh – talks about life in Suffolk, her husband’s dementia fight and the secret to success.
She is a national treasure who battled to prove herself as one of world’s best tennis players, winning the French Open and reaching the Wimbledon final.
But today legendary 1950s, 60s and 70s tennis star Christine Truman Janes, who has lived in Aldeburgh for more than 20 years, has opened up about one of her toughest fights yet – supporting her husband in his fight against dementia.
Mrs Truman Janes married former Wasps rugby player Gerry Janes in 1967 after she enjoyed a long career at the very top of British tennis, reaching number two in the rankings in 1959 – the year she won the French Open.
Like all great competitors she faced setbacks alongside success, losing the 1961 Wimbledon final when she fell and aggravated an old injury. That handed the advantage to her opponent, who went to win 7-5 in the final set.
The experience, when she was aged 20, taught her that her disappointments are “all part of life’s rich tapestry” and that determination is key to overcoming them.
The resilience she learned in the tough and competitive world of professional tennis has perhaps served her well for challenges in later life, as her husband began what she described as a “slippery road” towards dementia.
It is an experience many families in Suffolk, where she and Mr Janes holidayed to early in their marriage before moving to Aldeburgh in retirement, can relate to as the county’s elderly population grows and dementia becomes more prevalent.
The problems began around four years ago, with Mrs Truman Janes saying: “It’s difficult because we have been married for 50 years and in a way I suppose you could say I was masking the situation for three or four years.
“I was trying to make it right when I was never going to be able to make it right.”
The mother of four revealed that “my own health suffered as a result” and she tried to support her husband as best she could.
Even with support from carers who visited the couple’s coastal home, Mrs Truman Janes increasingly found herself overloaded.
“It was more than one person could do,” she said. “I started to realise I wasn’t superwoman.”
The situation took an unexpected turn at around Christmas last year when Mrs Truman Janes suffered a fall, crushing two vertebrae in her back.
A stay in hospital meant Mr Janes was given an assessment to determine his healthcare needs, which found he needed full-time, 24-hour care.
Mrs Truman Janes said the situation was “taken out of my hands” and that her husband going into Woodbridge Lodge care home, run by Lowestoft-based Kingsley Healthcare, was “not what I planned”.
Yet the grandmother of six has described her relief at how Mr Janes’ move into the care home has gone, believing it to be the best for his long-term health.
She also praised Woodbridge Lodge’s carers, saying: “They’ve been very good, kind and caring. They make you feel welcome all the time.
“It’s a relief to see he’s all right. It’s difficult to get your head around, but you have to realise that you can’t make life come back to what it was.
“That’s been the hardest thing – that whatever I do, it’s not going to be like it was.”
Even though she stopped playing tennis competitively many years ago, Mrs Truman Janes still takes to the court at clubs in Aldeburgh and Thorpeness at the age of 77.
As well as encouraging more young people to take it up, she believes the game she excelled at could now help to improve people’s health in later life by keeping them active and socially stimulated.
“It exercises all the muscles and it is something you can keep doing into old age,” she said.
“For youngsters, it’s not always about being Wimbledon champion. It’s about having a good hour and a half with a like-minded friend and enjoy that feeling of playing.
“I can understand for people who are working it’s easier to go out for a run, whereas for tennis you’ve got to have a partner.
“But hopefully encouraging people to play and that type of exercise too – there’s nothing quite like it.
“I hope enough people are learning the basics that even if they stop for a while, they can come back to it.”
‘Suffolk has a charm of its own. It is a very special place’
Tennis legend Christine Truman Janes speaks for many when she describes Suffolk as a “special place”.
The former French Open winner has a long association with the county going back to her teenage years.
As one of six children, she first visited Thorpeness in 1947 when her parents were looking for somewhere to holiday and neighbours suggested it as a great place for a break.
“We kept coming back as people did in those days and in 1967 my parents bought a house in Thorpeness,” she said.
“We continued coming here for holidays.”
Her and her husband, former Wasps rugby player Gerry Janes, later moved to Aldeburgh.
“We were all Suffolk converts,” she said.
“We love the life – the fresh air, the sea air and the outdoor life.
“We enjoy the walks in the open air – there is just so much unspoilt terrain, so much to see and so many interests to pursue.
“The people have time for you and Suffolk has a charm of its own. It is a very special place.
“There is not a place that me or my family would rather be.”
‘Keep working away at that goal – don’t let anything get in your way’
She reached the top of world tennis – but what are Christine Truman Janes’ secrets to success?
There are number of talented and skilled players out there, but asked what the key to her winning was she said: “Determination – that you have that goal and nothing is going to stop you if you can possibly help it, and that if you do have a loss or setback that you will try harder next time.”
She said she was lucky to have success early in her career, adding: “There is nothing like success to motivate you.”
But in a competitive environment, she said: “You have to learn to keep with it.
“The best advice is just to keep working away toward that goal, not letting anything get in your way.”
And she also remembers words of advice three-time Wimbledon champion Fred Perry gave to her.
“If you lose a match because you missed a shot, go out there and practise that shot so you never miss it again,” he told her.
Who does Christine Truman Janes rate amongst today’s tennis stars?
Simona Halep might be top of the women’s world tennis rankings – but British tennis legend Christine Truman Janes picks a few surprising names as those to watch out for among today’s crop of players.
Of the best female tennis talent in the world today, she says 21-year-old Russian Daria Kasatkina is a “very exciting” player who has a “lively variety to her game”.
She also says Japanese star Naomi Osaka is a great character – but among British players, she picks out Emma Raducanu for putting up a strong fight in games.
She said the 15-year-old is at an “important stage of her career” and urged her to keep making progress.
Factfile: Christine Truman Janes
■ 1941 - born in Woodford Green, Essex where she would grow up
■ 1957 - debuts at Wimbledon, aged 16
■ 1959 - wins French Open
■ 1961 - reaches Wimbledon final
■ 1967 - marries former Wasps rugby player Gerry Janes
■ 1975 - retires from tennis and becomes a commentator
■ 1984 - couple move to Aldeburgh
■ 2001 - made an MBE for services to sport
■ 2011 - publishes first in a series of children’s books