Members Spotlight on Ivan Rodriguez-Deb
Ivan Rodriguez Deb is VI Tennis Men’s Champion for Great Britain, (B4). We caught up with Ivan to find out the challenges he faced and how he overcame these.
Ivan was born with Marfan Syndrome, a connective tissue disorder that causes lens dislocation – where the lens of the eye falls into an abnormal position. When Ivan tried mainstream tennis at the age of 8, he found it difficult to maintain focus and reaction to a traditional tennis ball, affecting his ability to play the sport. His mother sought an alternative option for playing the sport in a more accessible way and discovered VI tennis at a BBS “Have-A-Go Day”.
Making his successful debut at the 2018 National Visually-Impaired Tennis Championships in Loughborough, Ivan has since played in numerous tournaments. He said: “Financial support from Metro Blind Sport enabled me to reach most VI tennis tournaments and Metro Blind Sport tennis events were also a great way to find others to play against and connect with.”
“VI tennis has been one of the best ways for me to get fit whilst doing something I enjoy. VI adapted tennis has really allowed me to be competitive without being at a disadvantage as I was before. I also really enjoy the social element.”
Working incredibly hard to get to the top, Ivan highlights how additional support from his brother, mum and Metro Blind Sport has been instrumental to his progression to becoming the current GB No.1, “My brother has been a fantastic coach and trained me right from the beginning, even before taking part in competitions.”
As the youngest-ever member to be selected for Great Britain’s Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) international squad, Ivan was excitedly anticipating the prospect of representing Team GB at the International Blind Tennis Tournament in Italy last June (2020). As a result of COVID-19 restrictions, this was cancelled but Ivan remained upbeat about the process and has been finding new ways to keep himself fit and focused for the return of play.
He said: “The type of training I have been doing during lockdowns includes HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) and workouts made by my brother alongside other resources such as YouTube and the Metro website. Of course, it’s been a shame not to have been on the tennis court as much as I would have liked, but I have just been doing what I can really.”
Starting a new sport at a young age with a visual impairment can be incredibly daunting; Ivan recommended getting involved in Metro Blind Sport activities and how these can make a difference. He said: “Even if tennis isn’t the thing for you, there’s many other sports and activities. It’s not just about the sports too, you get to meet some great people and have loads of fun. I would also recommend British Blind Sport and their ‘Have-A-Go’ days which really helped me”.
The biggest obstacles for Ivan were affording equipment, getting court time and working with VI trained coaches. He explained: “Equipment and finding facilities to play can be difficult to fund alongside coaches. There aren’t too many professionally trained VI tennis coaches about. Luckily, I have my brother to support me as well as my local tennis club which has adapted to support me. This has been great.”
Outside of sport, Ivan plays three instruments alongside his home schooling. Ivan talks about balancing them all simultaneously: “The first instrument I started was the piano at about the age of nine. I wanted to learn more, so I started playing the cello shortly after and following that I took up the organ. My love for music grew even more from this really. Music is now part of my studies which takes a big proportion of the day playing instruments!
Discussing how having a sight impairment affects his musical studies, Ivan highlights the necessary adaptions that he needed to continue his development: “At the beginning, it was quite difficult since I need large print music and we had to glue music on to cornflakes or pizza boxes but as I progressed, with pages and pages to read, it became quite unfeasible. When I took up the cello, I was involved in several orchestras and needed someone to turn my pages for me.
My life really changed when I got my first digital music stand. This meant that I could just scan in the pages of music and turn the page with a digital pedal. This closed the gap in terms of being at a disadvantage to others and made my orchestral participation and performance as a Grade 8 pianist and cellist infinitely more inclusive.”
Alongside the impressive array of musical studies, Ivan maintains his more traditional studies and took his first GCSEs early at the age of 11 and currently has a total of six with his last ones in summer 2021.
Talking about his ambitions for the future and what he would like to achieve Ivan said: “If I wasn’t doing tennis or music, the career I would choose is something in global development in countries or economics – perhaps working in a role for the UN!”. Ivan was recently selected from over one hundred applicants to become a member of Save The Children’s Youth Advisory Board for a two-year term.
He is looking forward to travelling again and added: “I am hoping to represent Great Britain at the next international tournament as well as travelling the world as much as I can when I get the opportunity.”
If you are feeling inspired to try blind tennis, please check out the upcoming tennis events below. You can also contact our Sports Development Officer Charlie for more information. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or Tel 07956292046
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