Tracey Carruthers enjoying return to competitive tennis action

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It’s often said that life begins at 40, but add another 10 years and the expression could well apply to Tracey Carruthers, who is back playing competitive sport after hanging up her tennis racket and her hockey stick.

The hockey stick remains mothballed but the tennis gear has been taken out again and, most recently, she played in the Ulster Championship ladies doubles at the Boat Club last week.

The lure of a trip to Florida was too much for Tracey who made a tennis comeback after retiring from the sport 12 years ago - or at least that was the plan at the time.

The Boat Club player’s family commitments, combined with her hockey career at Belfast Harlequins and latterly Pegasus, meant she had a choice to make and it was her tennis that had to make way back in 2001.

Tracey managed to continue playing hockey until the age of 43 when she hung up her stick after many years in the top flight with Harlequins.

She successfully combined both sports in her heyday and is one of a rare breed that has played representative sport in both hockey and tennis.

Tracey was a regular for the Ulster tennis team in senior inter-provincial tournaments for many years and has also played hockey for Ulster at the same level.

She won the prestigious Boat Club junior tournament in 1983 and went on to lift every title on offer in Ulster, making her last senior inter-pro appearance in 2001 before the family came along.

In between times she has run the Belfast marathon but she had no intention of taking up tennis again until she answered Ireland’s call a couple of months ago.

Carruthers was selected for the Ireland veterans team to take part in the World Championships in Florida and the venue was an important part of the reason to pick up a racket once again.

“Initially when I decided to make a comeback I thought I would only play socially but I took part in the veteran inter-pros and it was at that point I decided to put my name forward for Ireland.” she explained.

“Only three players from the north were picked from across the various age groups from over 35 to over 55 and I have to admit that the fact the tournament was in Palm Beach in Florida was a big incentive.”

Another incentive might have been the fact that there was no training involved ahead of the showpiece although money certainly wasn’t an inducement.

“We had to pay for our own flights and accommodation although we were provided with kit and because of that every one made their own separate travelling arrangements.” Tracey added.

“It’s not something I would do every year, mind you, and I had to take time off work to go away with the team.

“It was an amazing trip and I managed to win one of my matches in a tournament that was of a very high standard.

“We were drawn to play Brazil, Australia and Germany and and Great Britain were also there which was interesting.

“They were well looked after with their flights and accommodation and expenses paid for but they were the exception.

“Brazil and Germany had little or no support while the Aussies had some but the biggest challenge for us was playing on clay courts.

“The British Isles is the only place that play on artificial grass mainly and there are clay courts all over Europe.

“I don’t see why we couldn’t have at least one clay court maybe under one of the protective ‘bubbles’ that we use in winter.

“The bounce on clay is much higher and I don’t think kids nowadays know what a rally really is as they are much shorter on artificial grass courts.”

After more than a decade in the tennis wilderness Tracey says it did take some time to get her eye in and she had to learn how to play all over again to an extent.

“Fitness was no problem because of the hockey but I had to get lessons because I struggled with my timing, my movement and rediscovering how to become mentally focused,” she explained.

“Anticipation was also a problem, knowing where that’s where I should have played the ball, sharpness and getting up to pace had all suffered so I had a lot of catching up to do.

“But I am glad I have taken it up again and it has whetted my appetite for the sport again although I won’t be doing any more marathons, I can assure you.

“Once I stopped the hockey, I took up running and joined Lisburn Athletics Club where my daughter is a member. I just wanted to be able to say that I had done it and run a marathon so that’s what I did it 2010.

“I ran it in 4 hours 28 minutes but it was awful and I really should have done it in my 20s and not 40s so I won’t ever do another one!

“Through taking up tennis again I have met up with a lot of people whom I knew from the sport in years gone by, some who I knew when I was a junior and others when I was older.”