Cornwall’s only competitive wheelchair tennis player has defied a recent rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis and continued work towards achieving a dream Paralympic Games appearance, writes Tom Howe.
Fay Dutfield-Horton, who trains with Steve Graves at Newquay’s Heron Tennis Centre, represented Mid Glamorgan for many years as well as Wales in their under-16 hockey elite squad before going on to captain the Royal Artillery hockey team and represent the British Army.
Having sustained a knee injury while representing the British Army Hockey team, Dutfield-Horton went on to suffer an acute prolapse disc which has left her with damage to her right knee, foot, and lower back as well as limited sensation in her right leg and foot – all this coming before her recent arthritic diagnosis.
Having been unable to train and play last summer due to the pain she was in, Dutfield-Horton took specialist advice and returned to action during December’s National Wheelchair Tennis Championships in Shrewsbury, where, incredibly, she picked up a winner’s medal in the British National Doubles competition and a runners-up prize in the British National Singles.
Dutfield-Horton, originally from Pontypridd in south Wales but now based in St Erth, told The Independent: “From the end of July  I was out of action because I struggled a lot with pain. I had to take a couple of months out to rest.
“I have rheumatoid arthritis which is attacking the axial skeleton. I was suffering some really bad flare ups during that time. I wasn’t able to train or play tennis at all for a few months but it was well worth the time out.
“I decided in October to start training again. The doctor said I could carry on and I entered the competition in Shrewsbury with no expectations at all. I came away with two very nice trophies, one runner-up and one a doubles championship. I am really, really pleased with my progression.
“The spinal team and rheumatologist have said the best thing is for me to continue playing wheelchair tennis and to stay as focused as I can because that is going to help me not give up.”
Dutfield-Horton, who is preparing to compete at an event in Bolton later this month, is hoping businesses will come forward to help raise funds and assist her in achieving those dreams.
“I am intending to play in another four or five tournaments this year and I am desperately hoping someone can come forward regarding sponsorship,” said Dutfield-Horton, who is already thankful for the support provided by Tecnifibre, Bank Street Hair (Newquay), GLL Sports Foundation and Gemini Polishing & Finishing Limited (Cannock).
“My aim, as crazy as it sounds, is to try and make the 2024 Paralympics. It is a big ask because you have to be in the top 32 in the world to make the draw. I am 160 because I have not been playing. I lost a lot of points last year through not being able to compete.
“With better pain management and the medical teams on board to support me, I am also hopeful for the 2022 Invictus Games in Germany should wheelchair tennis return. It was not one of the official sports in the last two games which was such a shame. I have adapted my work so I can have more time off to recover between long days. It doesn’t matter what label we have, it is how we deal with it. I live with chronic pain everyday. It gets me down sometimes and we all have low moments. The days we feel we can not do anything are the days we should.”
For more information, or to discuss sponsorship opportunities, call Fay on 07800 861169.