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For staff


Sport at Cambridge is enjoying a resurgence. Here are three members of staff who enjoy some of the country's lesser-known pursuits.

From rugby to real tennis

Tall and powerfully built, diabetes researcher and clinician Dr Mark Evans looks like he would be more comfortable charging down an oval ball on a rugby pitch than chasing a dense, cloth-covered one around a real tennis court.

A rugby player since childhood, Mark once played for Saracens – now Premiership champions – until age and injury caught up with him. “I’ve always been a sportsman. I played nearly 30 years of rugby – from school, through university and on into adult life, and I retired several times,” he says.

His final – and permanent – retirement from rugby came at the age of 40. “I was getting too old to carry on playing a contact sport. Mrs Evans was getting fed up, I had small children, and when I turned 40 recovery from injury took a long time.”

Introduced to real tennis by a neighbour, Mark fell in love with the game, played by only 7,000 people worldwide on fewer than 50 courts, two of which are in Cambridge.

“I’m not sure I can explain easily what it is I love about real tennis,” he says. “It has a mixture of the best bits of lots of other sports. It clearly has the hand-eye skills of a lot of racquet sports, there’s a remarkable handicap system – a bit like golf – which means lots of games are very tight, and there’s quite a strategic element to it as well.”

Scored like lawn tennis and played across a net with racquets and a ball, there the similarity ends. Racquets are smaller and balls less bouncy in real tennis, which is played in an asymmetrical court with several strange features – sloping roofs, openings (or ‘galleries’) in the walls, and a main wall with a kink, or ‘tambour’, in it.

“Someone can theoretically go through an entire match at the service end. People don’t swap ends like lawn tennis. But the big difference and the reason for all those funny markings on the court is the chase – a point held in abeyance,” Mark explains. “It took me six months to understand the rules and I’m still learning.”

Not least about the game’s “subtlety and thought”, which Cambridge University Real Tennis Club considers “more prized than power and fitness”. According to Mark: “I’ve been playing for two and half years and, until now, I’ve been playing a bit like a rugby player with a weapon. I’ve got as far as I can by doing that, so now I’m going to concentrate on some of the subtleties of the game.”

In her father’s footsteps

Her father, Ronald Wallwork, won gold at the 1966 Commonwealth Games in the 20-mile race walk, but it took Linda Spinks, a business analyst in MISD, more than 40 years to follow in his footsteps.

“We spent our childhood embroiled in race walking because that was what my father was doing every weekend,” she says. “It took us all round the country, but it was never something I thought I would do. I didn’t think I was particularly competitive.”

Currently training for the London MoonWalk – a nocturnal mixture of marathon and Mardi Gras – when Linda started race walking 12 months ago at the age of 44, it wasn’t her father’s success that spurred her on.

“I’ve been on a weight-loss journey for 15 years. For the last two years I’ve been going to Slimming World, and got to a point at the beginning of last year when my weight loss had plateaued,” she explains. “I really needed to do something to up the ante on the weight loss.”

So in February 2011 Linda set her father another challenge: to prepare her for the Moulton Five, a five-mile race walk he organises every year in the Suffolk village where they live.

“I’d competed in it before, just on the back of dog walking, and the previous year it had taken me two hours 10 minutes, so I told Dad that I wanted him to train me to do the Moulton Five in under the hour.”

With less than four months training under her belt, Linda crossed Moulton’s finish line in 56:45 but, she admits, it’s not all about time.

“It’s helped with the weight loss – I’ve now lost just over three stone,” she says. “I’ve got another stone to go but I’m feeling healthy and my clothes are all fitting. So it’s achieved the objective of getting the weight-loss kicked off, but it’s like anything: once you start exercise you can’t stop!”

It's also given her the opportunity to spend more time with her father, at a time in her life when she appreciates it. “It’s been really nice because it’s something that we’ve done together. I think if I’d have done it as a teenager I wouldn’t have wanted Dad to train me,” says Linda.

And it’s also encouraged fellow staff at Greenwich House to get out and exercise together. “We had a spell when there were half a dozen of us going out at the same time. It’s about commitment – we might not stick together when we’re out, but we’ve made a commitment to go out,” she says. “And because we’ve no canteen facilities, it’s a good way of doing something with colleagues.”

Rock and roll on ice

Toronto born and bred, Bill Harris, Professor of Anatomy, was brought up on ice. “I was on skates probably at the age of four. Our school had several natural skating rinks, boarded-off areas they just turned the hose on and turned into ice rinks,” he remembers.

In Cambridge, where he plays ice hockey with the Eskimos (a staff and student team) and coaches both men’s and women’s blues teams, playing ice hockey involves catching a coach to Peterborough or Milton Keynes.

“High schools in Canada and the USA have ice rinks, but here is a university that was prominent in introducing ice hockey to many parts of the world that doesn’t have an ice rink in the town,” he says.

When the Cambridge University Ice Hockey Club was formed in 1885, the annual Varsity game – according to the Hockey Hall of Fame, the oldest ongoing rivalry in hockey – involved travelling even further afield, usually to St Moritz in Switzerland, attracting thousands of spectators.

While the Blues have the Varsity match, for the past four years the Eskimos have travelled to Austria to compete in Linz’s Steel Cup. “This year was our best result: we came in second,” says Bill. “It was a very close final, back and forth, but unhappily we lost 8-6 against EC Wyvern.”

Now in his 60s, Bill is one of the oldest actively playing the game in the UK. “As I get older I’m not so keen on the rough stuff as I used to be. I don’t like to get smashed hard any more, but it’s part of the game and I’m wily enough now that I can avoid a lot of it, but maybe not fast enough to get out of the way some times.”

“The thing I like about the game is the creativity, the beauty, the speed, the fluidity of it, some of the stunning things people do,” he says. “Skating is beautiful. It’s smooth, it’s fast, people do balletic and dramatic things on skates that you can hardly believe, going from really fast to stopping, to spinning around and jumping in the air. If you think about figure skating and music, if you put ice hockey to music it’d be more like rock and roll.”

And nowhere is skating more beautiful – and more precious for its increasing rarity – than on freezing winter days in the Fens. “It’s fabulous, how big the ice is, and it’s beautiful, hard ice. Everything travels better on hard ice,” Bill explains. “The wind keeps sheering off the top and new ice is freezing on the bottom so you get this beautiful, flat surface that’s continually repairing itself.”

“We just play, what Canadians call shinny. You don’t put on all your equipment, you play safe, you don’t hit but you do all the beautiful stuff of hockey. You can skate fast, do all the passes. You throw your sticks in the middle, divide into two teams, make goals out of boots and bags, and just play until you can’t play any more.”


31 January 2013