Every once in a while you come across individuals that just seem to excel at any sporting activities they attempt. Epirus Ambassador Lea Van Der Zwalmen is certainly in this category.
After an illustrious career in squash where she captured the French U19 National Title and represented France at the World Junior Championships, she decided to turn her attention to Real Tennis and Rackets. Needless to say, as the current Ladies Rackets World Champion (since May 2015) and #2 World Ranked Real Tennis Player, it has gone pretty well!
Lea is now on a quest to make history by becoming the first ever person to be World Champion in both Rackets and Real Tennis in the same season. We are thrilled to have her join the Epirus Team and are excited to cheer her on as she works towards this incredible goal. Welcome Lea!
1. What are your main sports?
I started playing squash in Toulouse, France, at the age of 8 and went on to play both for club and country. Highlights of my junior career include captaining the under 19 women’s French team during the World Junior Championships in 2013 and winning the under 19 National French Championships in 2015. Since moving to the UK in Summer 2013 and subsequently attending Clifton College for Sixth Form, I have switched focus to the original rackets sports games of Rackets and Real Tennis.
2. What do you love so much about playing Rackets and Real Tennis?
For me Rackets and Real tennis are totally addictive and character-building. You need audacity and quick reflexes for both. They are ultra-traditional with a unique atmosphere and a strategic, intellectual dimension: the angles are crucial. I personally find that, whatever our age, level or experience, the fun, friendships and life lessons acquired from both these historic games are much more valuable than simply learning a new skill – though nothing beats the exhilaration of middling a full-blooded backhand down the Rackets wall for a winner or ripping down the perfect cut volley return of serve to beat chase better than one yard in Real Tennis!
3. What is your proudest moment in your sporting life?
On the Rackets front, winning the first ever Ladies World Championships in May 2015 at The Queen’s Club against the Real Tennis World Champion Claire Fahey in four games was very special. I remember the match and the huge thrill from winning like it was yesterday.
On the Real tennis front, whilst I have won The Queen’s Club Ladies Championships twice and consistently made at least the semi finals of various prestigious tournaments including Grand Slam events, my biggest and proudest achievement to date is perhaps climbing up the ranking from world number 16 in November 2017 to number two by August 2018 in a record time of just under ten months.
4. What are your current goals associated with your sports?
My sporting goals are very clear: I want to make history by becoming the first ever person to be world champion in both Rackets and Real tennis in the same season. I have met some truly exceptional people and have been to amazing places through playing so I am determined to give back to these sports that have given me so much over the years. I very much hope that my dedication and hard work might inspire more people, especially kids, to take up these amazing games. I would also love to be directly involved with the construction and opening of a new Real Tennis and/or Rackets court.
5. What are your favourite cross training activities?
In addition to on-court Real Tennis & Rackets training, I enjoy going to the gym as well as playing Squash and Padel.
6. What is your favourite thing to do outside of sport?
When I am not studying or on court training, I love watching movies and series, discovering new music on SoundCloud, reading and spending time with family and friends.
7. What do you do professionally?
Having just graduated this summer from the University of Nottingham with a BA in Economics with German, I am now studying for a MSc in Economics at the University of Leuven, Belgium. I have so far managed to successfully juggle between my studies/work and high-level sports and I very much hope to be able to continue just that after graduation in July 2020.
8. How do you use your Epirus bag?
I use my Epirus Borderless Backpack for going to classes, carrying my Real Tennis and/or Rackets gear to training and tournaments as well as day to day use. I particularly like how the entire range of Epirus bags is both very stylish as well as extremely functional.
9. What are your sports bag essentials?
My list of ‘must-haves’ in my sports bag include: my beautifully tightly strung Gold Leaf racquets, some PlayBrave white tennis kit, sport shoes, towel, water bottle, tunes and earphones, and some energy bars.
10. Do you have any superstitions or quirks that are part of your routine?
I do not consider myself superstitious, but I do believe in the power of routines. Before a big match, I would try to load myself with carbs and some protein usually 2h before and then have another snack 1h before. I would then start a dynamic warm-up at least half an hour before whilst listening to my favourite playlist and drinking plenty of water.
Find out how Lea is faring in her quest to be ranked World #1 in both Rackets and Real Tennis by following her on Instagram.