31 Jan 2018

The UNIQLO Interview: Patrick Selepe and Louise Hunt

News Article

Photo: Reg CaldecottPatrick Selepe (RSA)

UNIQLO LogoFor the first UNIQLO Interview of 2018 we spoke to Patrick Selepe of South Africa and Louise Hunt of Great Britain, who were announced winner and runner-up, respectively, of the inaugural UNIQLO Spirit Award in November last year.

The UNIQLO Spirit Award was launched in 2017 to recognise a player or players who embody the principles and core values of UNIQLO and Fast Retailing Group by seeking to challenge and change the world around them, by challenging themselves and striving for the highest standards imaginable.

In being named winner of the inaugural award, the judging panel recognised in Patrick Selepe someone whose life has not only been changed by wheelchair tennis, but who now seeks to change the lives of others around him through his work as Wheelchair Tennis South Africa Development Manager, as well as challenging perceptions and breaking down barriers in other areas of the sport.

“I found out about wheelchair tennis when John Noakes and Siyabulela Nkachela came to Limpopo for a coaching clinic. I was invited to the clinic by the local Limpopo association for sports for physically challenged, as I was a member then participating in athletics,” recalls Selepe who was among the first South African players to discover the sport through one of the earliest Wheelchair Tennis Development Fund projects.

“After that I played my first tournament in Durban at the South Africa Sport Association for the Physically Disabled (SASAPD) Nedbank Championships and that’s when I started falling in love with the sport. Being involved in wheelchair tennis as a player helped me to grow mentally and physically and gave me an opportunity to travel around the world. I got my first passport and flew for the first time in my life.”

Whilst having travelled as a player, more recently he travelled to Great Britain in 2016 to officiate at Wimbledon Qualifying. In 2015, Selepe, who had his left leg amputated as the result of bone cancer, became the first disabled person to earn a White Badge qualification.

“As an official I got an opportunity to learn more about Tennis Rules, which is an additional strand to my sport career. It also opened many doors for me to travel the world and officiate at Wimbledon (Qualifying) on grass courts for the first time. That also is boosting me financially and helping me make a living.”

Selepe is equally proud of his achievements as a player and as an official, and of his development work, which includes introducing programmes to school and centres that often have no, or limited, facilities, as well as supporting and mentoring young people who sometimes don’t have parents or who have parents that are not extensively involved in their lives. In all Wheelchair Tennis South Africa’s development programme serves more than 50 centres, and over 500 players participating weekly.

“As a player my most proud achievement was representing my country at World Team Cup and also being able to host it in our country,” says Selepe. “As an official it was being the first Chair Umpire with a disability for Davis Cup. With my development work I am most proud of seeing top players who are doing well knowing I introduced them to wheelchair tennis.”

When it comes to nurturing young players, Selepe also believes more international competition can only be a good thing.

“I will like to see more juniors given opportunity to participate internationally at an early age, so they can get more exposure and compete with other players than just the local players, globally I will like to see a full Integration of wheelchair tennis to abled-bodied tennis.”

“I am very proud and honoured to be named inaugural winner of the UNIQLO Spirit Award. That motivates me to work even harder and proudly so.”

Louise Hunt’s wheelchair tennis journey began with the desire to challenge herself and the perceptions of those around her.

“Of all the sports I tried, wheelchair tennis was the toughest, the most challenging. I like to push myself and find new challenges and wheelchair tennis gave me that opportunity. Every day is new and has new challenges,” says Hunt, who was born with spina bifida and first tried the sport at five-years-old at a primary sports camp organised by British wheelchair sports charity WheelPower.

She soon moved on to wheelchair tennis camps organised by the Tennis Foundation, Great Britain’s leading tennis charity, and subsequently became a member of the Tennis Foundation’s Wheelchair Tennis Performance Programme, representing her country at junior and senior level in the BNP Paribas World Team Cup and earning more than 70 titles currently in singles and doubles on the UNIQLO Wheelchair Tennis Tour.

However, being chosen by the judging panel as runner-up in the inaugural UNIQLO Spirit Award means, has a special meaning for 26-year-old Hunt.

“It’s really nice to be recognised for the hard work I put in off court as well as on it. It’s great to be recognised for something else that I do that I don’t necessarily expect to be recognition for, but which I do because I’m very passionate about it,” said Hunt, whose nomination cited her extensive work visiting schools, mentoring young people of all ages and abilities, and travelling to and maintaining contacts with players in Ghana as a Wheelchair Tennis Development Fund Player Ambassador.

“It’s normal that if you win a tournament then someone says well done. But when it comes to mentoring or visiting schools, when I come home from a school visit no one normally congratulates you, so for that side of my life to be rewarded, too, it’s really nice.”

In a week that’s marked 2012 days since the since the start of London Olympics, Hunt has no doubt when asked about her career highlight as a two-time Paralympian.

“London 2012 was incredible. It was the fulfilment of a dream that began when I took up wheelchair tennis. To go into the opening ceremony with our wheelchair tennis players at the front of all the British athletes and the crown and everything is a memory I will always treasure. And then, of course, playing at Wimbledon, was also very special; to get the chance to play at your home Grand Slam.”

Earning the opportunity to make her Paralympic Games debut in London saw Hunt overcoming just one of a number of personal challenges that year. She met the qualification criteria by winning her very last tournament of the qualification window, the Israel Open. And it also gave her the opportunity to broaden her horizons, due to the increasing number of request for school visits and motivational speeches, which continues to allow her to challenge perceptions of disability.

“Wheelchair tennis has given me confidence and it’s given me unimaginable friendships. Many of the friendships I’ve developed are second to none. And it’s given me opportunities to see the world and a platform to build a really successful career upon. My off court opportunities have come because of success on the court,” says Hunt.

When it comes to her hopes for the future of wheelchair tennis, she says:

“I would like to see bigger draws at the Grand Slams. I think the sport has got to that point where the draw sizes aren’t big enough to show the depth of talent, and of course I would like to see lots more people taking up the sport, as well as more live TV coverage of wheelchair tennis.”