Courageous Edinburgh tennis quartet thriving in face of life-changing conditions

A tennis team captained by a Multiple Sclerosis sufferer and including three other squad members who have had cancer are battling their way through this season’s VMH Solicitors East of Scotland Leagues on an upward trajectory.
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Lomond Park 4ths and their internal group known as the ‘Fab Fours’, and skippered by Libba Byrne, swept all before them in 2022 to clinch a promotion. Not only that but Byrne, a mum-of-three who was diagnosed with MS in 2018, ranked third overall in the last full league statistics having won 13 out of 14 matches.

Acting as a spokesperson for the courageous quartet, some of whom understandably prefer to remain anonymous, Byrne is happy to go on the record with her story of success at a club based in Edinburgh’s Trinity district – as is Non Hodgkinson’s Lymphoma sufferer and team-mate, Lesley Watson. Byrne and Watson hope that anyone similarly afflicted may realise that illness needn’t be a bar to enjoying sport.

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Indeed, Byrne insists that playing league tennis has helped her deal with the disease both physically and mentally – especially when it means being able to partner 16-year-old daughter, Catherine. “This season has been tougher but we are still riding high on our wins last year” says Byrne.

The Lomond Park ladies team before a league match this weekThe Lomond Park ladies team before a league match this week
The Lomond Park ladies team before a league match this week

In fact, the Fab Fours and others are sitting comfortably mid-table after initial stages and Byrne insists: “We are very lucky ladies being able to have fun on the tennis court. Faced with life-changing situations we are able to see tennis not only as a welcome distraction but something that gets us out in the fresh air and meeting other people. We don’t feel so isolated.

“I’ve learned that league tennis needn’t be reserved for people perceived to be really good players, verging professional, in approach. Rather it is a good way of managing my fitness and achieving a positive mind-set which leaves me very far from feeling unwell.”

A series of setbacks have been overcome by Byrne including some sight loss at one stage. “When I was given a full diagnosis I lost feeling in some of my left side. I’ve got that back but I have been left without feeling in a foot. Thankfully it hasn’t prevented me from tearing around the court where benefits include improving my balance and co-ordination as part of rehab.

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“It’s surreal to think that when I returned to tennis after playing as a youngster I couldn’t last five minutes. Yet I can now play a full club match which can sometimes take up to four hours.”

Byrne knows there is no cure for MS which is a degenerative brain condition. But she insists that league tennis is helping her deal positively with her situation. “Matches against other clubs are so welcoming and inclusive and to see us all go on court together is hopefully encouraging to those who know our back stories,” she adds.

“There are several of us who might be called ‘survivors’. It isn’t our raison d’etre for playing but we do take pleasure in hopefully demonstrating that the glass can be half-full.”

Watson, who was diagnosed in 2010, agrees, saying: “Far from being concerned my consultant always asks ‘are you still playing tennis?’

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“Tennis is not only the best medicine but a cheap medicine; being active has been proven to help. Being part of a team who are so cheery and positive has really helped me to live with my condition. When I had to have chemo I was glad it came at the end of a league season leaving me time to prepare for getting back on court."

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