Jennifer Donnelly loves sports. She loves hockey, tennis, football and golf. The funny thing is, though, that Jenn doesn’t love confrontation.
“Isn’t that the basis of sport in general?” I asked Jenn awhile back. “Aren’t you out there strictly to compete against either yourself or an opponent?”
“It doesn’t have to be that way,” said Jenn. “My focus is different.”
Kelvin: Tell me a about how you found yourself in the North Shore Winter Club's tennis community. have you played tennis your whole life?
Jenn: Oh no, I was originally a hockey player.
Wait, I’m supposed to be talking tennis here. No hockey.
(Laughs) Well, I do have a tennis background, I played as a young teenager. But I played everything, quarterback, ice hockey, and I’ve just now picked up golf. I’m a 5 handicap. I’m a sports fanatic. I quit tennis after high school for awhile because I just wanted to play hockey. I took 20 years off, got married, joined the club and my husband convinced me to get back into it.
How often do you play tennis?
These days I play once or twice a week in division 1. I played open for many years, open league you have ex pros, people who played tournaments or on tour, division 1 is 4.0 - 4.5. Kind of like golf.
The levels aren’t strictly enforced, but everyone wants to play in their respective comfort level. With ;league tennis in all divisions there are 4 courts to a match in order of strength. There's some jockeying for position, it’s part of learning where you fit.
What other challenges do tennis players face?
Tennis is evil sometimes, the gamesmanship, the bad calls. The mental side of it, you can really get in someone's kitchen. I think I play fair, I call it fair, but it’s not always so cut and dry.
I've got some knowledge I suppose, I've won some club championship tournaments. Singles doubles and mixed doubles. Lots of people have picked up sports later in life and they fall in love with it. We have the Divas who picked it up a few years ago, and they start at the bottom and they've gotten better at different rates. It’s awesome to see.
You’re not the first person who’s described tennis as an evil sport to me. What is it that keeps people coming back? What do you like about the game - why do you play?
I play for the friendships. I hate competing in tennis. I did so much of it as a junior. I don't actually love tennis, I like tennis but I love my tennis friends. We're a really tight group, the core of us. We just play at night and then hit the bar after.
I was competitive at the start, I started playing with Frank Nichols, I used to bring my kids to daycare and sit and read and guys would come in and ask me to play and that's how it all kind of started, playing with these veterans of the game. They were competitive, they put their energy into something positive, playing 3 times each week, and that passion rubbed off on me.
What obstacles have you had to overcome in your tennis career?
It was never a career, it's an activity I enjoy. My husband was supportive when I was playing hockey with a young kid, I was 3 and a half months pregnant and I was playing hockey at nationals - that’s not specific to tennis obviously, but it shows what people will go through to play a game they love. The guys at Larry's had to create a special pad to protect me and the baby and I had a great tournament because I was in a foul mood. Another teammate was pregnant too. We were such a great team, we took on the Arbutus men's club team and we beat them 11-0 to train for nationals. Some guy actually cross-checked me, my husband was reffing and he grabbed the guy and yelled "she's pregnant!"
Ok, back to tennis. What are your future goals for your game - winning matches, improving your skills, hiding your weaknesses - what are you aiming for?
In the next six months I want to do well in league, I want my teammates to succeed in league and I hope to contribute. Women's tennis is huge down here, it's grown and I'd love to see the upstairs courts improved.
After that, like I said I just want to be part of something special for a long time. I’m already there so I’m just going to enjoy it.
Sound advice for athletes of any sport.
Every sport, every game, I'm there for my mates! Number one rule in team sports, no matter what your focus might be.