“I attribute my accomplishments to my mother” – Jordanne Whiley on motherhood, tennis and the impact of her mother on her career
By Sarah Edworthy
The pub had been booked for a big family party lunch, but today [Sunday] Jordanne Whiley will rather observe Mother’s Day from a distance. Following LTA’s advice to wheelchair competitors to adhere to social distancing guidelines during the coronavirus crisis, the 2020 British Australian Open women’s doubles champion will face her mother from her home in South Oxford, and will sadly miss the pleasure of being with Julie in person while her mom opens the basket of favorite things she packed as a special thank you.
“She sacrificed everything so that I could play tennis.”
Those who participate in the wheelchair tour know that the Whileys are a tight unit. “My mother gave up her job so that she could take care of me when I was born,” says Jordanne, who, like her father Keith, was born with brittle bone disease. “She sacrificed everything so that I could play tennis. She took me to classes, to tournaments, and since Jackson was born in January 2018, she comes with me to take care of him. It is priceless.
To make sure Jordanne is resting properly in order to perform at her best in tournaments, Julie stays with Jackson in a separate hotel room. “When I’m competing, I train, warm up, cool down, recover and make sure I have the right food at the right time. He adores his nanny and it reassures me to know that I can do all of this while he is having a blast.
First grand slam as a mom
This long-standing dynamic of maternal support continues to evolve, allowing Jordanne to pursue her competitive goals in balance with a happy home life. Just seven weeks ago in Melbourne, she won her first Grand Slam title as a mother (partnering with Yui Kamiji to rack up their 10e Slam title together) – when, back in the UK, Julie had moved into Jordanne’s house for three weeks to take care of Jackson’s children.
The victory at the Australian Open was moving on many levels. The Grand Slam triumph, beating top seeds Diede De Groot and Aniek Van Koot of the Netherlands 6-2 6-4, keeps Jordanne on track towards her goal of a singles podium at the Paralympic Games. But the three-week absence from home meant she missed Jackson’s second birthday. “It was the longest I’ve been away from him, and I found it really, really difficult,” she concedes.
Before heading to Melbourne, she had told her trainer and fiance, Marc McCarroll, that if she was ever to get away from their son, she would have to make it all count. Bring home her 10e The Grand Slam trophy certainly helped justify this decision. The same goes for little Jackson’s birthday encouragement via a video chat set up by nanny Julie. “He just told me to play tennis, so that’s what I did!”
Jordanne’s return to international tennis has been surprisingly successful, despite her expectations when she returned to competition in February 2019, away from him. It was the support of my family that helped me get started, ”she recalls. “But there was an immediate change in my tennis. In the first two tournaments I won one and finished second in the other beating the top five players in the world… and I was just hoping to pass a round!
Motherhood changed Jordanne’s career
Now 27, Jordanne sees her tennis life before and after motherhood as two different careers. “Before, I was a different tennis player. Becoming a mother has changed me so much, personally and at work. I prefer myself now… Being responsible for a child changes your priorities, the way you think and perceive the world. I’m calmer, I have more respect for people, I’m kinder to myself, and all of that translates into more intense work on the court. Not wanting to waste time when I’m away really helped my performance.
“I attribute my accomplishments to my mother.”
Since returning from maternity leave, she has won seven singles titles and eight doubles titles. “I attribute my accomplishments to my mother,” she says. “She literally does everything with Jackson to allow me to train and compete. She comes from Birmingham to stay here two nights each week. When I’m competing overseas, she comes for one, two, or even three weeks at a time. Without his help, I should have retired. She helps keep the balance for me as a mom who is also an athlete. I did not become a mother so as not to be there.
Part of this shift in perspective stems from new motivation. She was 11 weeks pregnant when she and Kamiji won their fourth doubles title at Wimbledon in 2017. Is she playing for herself or for her son? “A mixture of the two,” she said. “The reason I came back after my son was born was to continue pursuing my life goal of being on the podium in singles at the Paralympic Games. This is my ultimate competitive goal. But I also want Jackson to experience seeing myself and other people with disabilities traveling the world, competing and following our dreams. I don’t want him to grow up hearing that tennis was something I did.
What’s next for 2020?
The coronavirus pandemic has made these times uncertain. The tennis calendar is on hold; the fate of the Tokyo Games is still undetermined. But with her mother’s unwavering support, Jordanne Whiley’s 2020 goals are – so far – still in place. Dealing with uncertainty is the challenge. “I am a planner, an organizer. I like a schedule. I had this plan to do my tournaments, to play well. We get married at the end of the year, there is a bachelorette party, a bachelor party, a honeymoon … and then I was going to see where I was at the level of the tennis because I can’t see myself continuing the four-year cycle. Now we are talking about moving the Games, and it has become really, really stressful.
Home ♥ ️ ♥ ️ ♥ ️ pic.twitter.com/BNWCaxObFc
– Jordanne Whiley MBE (@ jordannejoyce92) March 14, 2020
Mother’s Day 2020 will be a day of respite, enjoying the time spent with your toddler. “Jackson is a typical little boy, a ball of energy, and he never stops. It makes self-isolation quite difficult! But it will be good to do fun things with him – cook and paint. He loves it. help me bake cakes and cookies he likes to do all the riddling and decorating Our house is going to be overflowing with sweets, but we have a nice big trampoline in the backyard so he can burn some of that energy.