Nino Severino: Justice shows anything is possible if you dig deep and find a way
In his latest column, Nino Severino shares the story of Justice Hall, a youngster from Ipswich whose life was changed by the Elena Baltacha Foundation.
I always look forward to writing my column, as I feel very passionate about sport, health, fitness and its positive effects.
This week’s column is extra special, as I have the opportunity to share Justice Hall’s story, and how her path crossed with my wife and I in 2010 which in turn, dramatically changed Justice’s life.
I remember the launch of the Elena Baltacha Foundation like it was yesterday. We were on a flight to Miami, and as usual during take-off, Elena held my hand very tightly, as she was terrified of this part of the flight, which was always a challenge as we travelled around the world most of the year! Once we were up, she could relax.
After 30 minutes or so, she turned to me and said: “Nin, I want to talk about a tennis foundation to offer tennis to children.”
I responded by saying: “But you’re a professional tennis player, how are you going to do that?”, and she reassured me with “We’ll find a way Nin” – a phrase she so often used!
And that was how it all started, Elena was not only happy with offering tennis opportunities, she wanted to focus on offering tennis to children in deprived areas.
I remember we discussed this with an individual from the sport, and he responded with: “It’s not possible, tennis is too expensive” and carried on by explaining that’s why most tennis clubs do not target deprived areas – they believe families who live in those areas cannot afford private members fees and the high cost of coaching.
I remember Bally saying: “And that’s why we have a problem in British tennis Nin, because of this attitude, we’ll give it a go”.
That individual’s negative attitude was like a red rag to a bull – if you told Elena something was not possible, she would fight and try and make something happen. And that’s exactly what she did, and my goodness did she make something happen!
We only visited schools in deprived areas for years, and we found the exact opposite to what we heard from this individual, families were willing to sacrifice, and work with Elena and I to find a way.
We negotiated lower membership rates, grouped up children so the fees were manageable, and created a camaraderie amongst the parents that ensured they all stuck together and shared the challenges of supporting their children in our sport of tennis.
One young girl who Elena saw at a school in Nacton, Ipswich, is a perfect example of what can be achieved if you fight, and find a way. That girl is Justice Hall.
In 2010, Elena’s best ever year on the world tour, she flew back to the UK and asked me, as she so often did: “What school are we visiting this week Nin?”. I told her, and little did we both know how dramatically we were going to change one little girls’ life!
Bally chose Justice to join the Elena Baltacha Academy of Tennis, and she very quickly showed an incredible talent for our sport.
The foundation supported Justice’s family in many ways, which included taking her up to Scotland to work with the one and only Judy Murray.
Our support also included finding a coach and developing a tennis programme that would be the foundation of Justice’s rise through the British tennis ranks.
She is now 14-years-old, and has earned a scholarship and benefits from a private education and a full-time tennis programme.
Through her devotion to her tennis training and with the support of her dad Leon, and mother Kerri, Justice was selected to represent her country in 2016!
Leon told me: “Justice has not had it all easy in terms of her tennis journey and we as a family have had to make huge sacrifices for her to reach the level she has.
“What we didn´t fully appreciate before this journey began was how much the family are involved and affected when a child decides they want to become a professional tennis player.
“With how talented Justice is and how hard she is willing to work; these two factors have convinced me that she has all the tools to be a great tennis player.”
Leon recently visited the multi-million-pound University of Suffolk Hub on the Marina, and I’m over the moon to say that Justice, one of Elena’s original girls, is now a British international and will be supported by the very talented sports science team at the university.
The journey has gone full circle, and I feel immense pride in terms of what Justice has gone on to achieve, and the fact that my wife’s life and her devotion to her foundation changed her life in such a dramatic way.
Anything is possible, if you dig deep and “find a way!”