Nino Severino: The athletes who inspire me the most

Andrew Brooks in training. Picture: SEAN HOLOBONE

Andrew Brooks in training. Picture: SEAN HOLOBONE - Credit: Archant

In his latest column, Nino Severino talks about the inspirational disabled athletes he’s trained with and watched in action.

Andrew Brooks is a karate black belt. Picture: SEAN HOLOBONE

Andrew Brooks is a karate black belt. Picture: SEAN HOLOBONE - Credit: Archant

Part of my week is spent coaching the next generation of tennis players based in Ipswich, and most of this is carried out at Ipswich Sports Club.

I’m very proud that the club has also embraced visually impaired tennis.

When we talk about sport, we often talk about champions, the titans of the competitive world who inspire us, but when I watch the club’s visually impaired tennis players training on the courts, I have to say that this is truly inspirational.

I frequently talk about sport, and the positive effect it can have amongst our young developing children, but sport also has a very important part to play for those who have been born mentally or physically disabled, or through accidents or illness suffered these life challenges.


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Sport gives these individuals an amazing opportunity to show they have as much heart, commitment, and passion as any abled-bodied athlete, and this I witness on a weekly basis at the club.

I remember when Elena and I would stay at the LTA Tennis National Training Centre in Roehampton, for our training blocks in preparation for Wimbledon.

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At the end of the day we would return from dinner, and as we walked along the balcony to our rooms to retire for the day, we would look down and there were the British wheelchair tennis team training deep into the evening.

Their slot was at the end of the day, after the able-bodied players, so not the easiest time of the day to train, but as we walked over, without fail, we always stopped and watched in awe.

Both Elena and I would talk about the fight these athletes must have in their hearts to power the wheelchairs around the court with such speed and accuracy and play the game with so much energy and commitment.

In Great British sport today we are lucky enough to have high profile disabled athletes – Paralympians such as Ellie Simmonds our magnificent swimmer, and Jonnie Peacock the 100m sprinter, both gold medallists and world class athletes.

Jonnie, of course, recently showed on Strictly Come Dancing how being physically disabled can be overcome if the heart, spirit and mind embrace the challenge – and he did this in simply jaw-dropping style.

Most of my family are ballroom and Latin American dancers, I also danced quite a bit as a young man, and let me tell you, what Jonnie managed to do on the Strictly floor was nothing short of a miracle!

But every day across Great Britain, the ordinary disabled athlete, those without fame or celebrity, will show how the human spirit can endure the extreme hardships that life will often deliver.

I have experience of one such person, Andrew Brooks.

I first met him as a young man. He was born with Down’s Syndrome and arrived for the first time at my karate club on Foxhall Road in Ipswich, over 21 years ago.

I will never forget it, his mum and dad walked through the door with him, and asked if I would be prepared to take Andrew on as a student.

With no hesitation I said yes, and asked my then assistant instructor Sean Hollobone if he would take him under his wing and nurture the obvious spirit this young man possessed.

Sean eventually took on the ownership of the club, and little did I know that this martial arts partnership of master and student would go on to shock the whole of our National Karate Association.

Andrew would go on to gain his black belt, and in 2017, at the age of 42, won the highest accolade that our association could bestow on any of its students, the Summer Course Trophy – this trophy had been won by National, British and European champions!

Simply put, what Sean and Andrew achieved at Foxhall Karate Club embodies the spirit that drives all those who must fight so much harder than most of us every morning they wake up.

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