My story

In 2009, aged 13, I became paralysed after falling from a tree. The accident left me wheelchair-bound for the rest of my life.

Inspired to succeed

I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.

In 2009 at the age of 13, I fell out of a tree and broke my back. This left me paralysed from the waist down and unable to walk. I have always been extremely active and have had a natural ability and love for ball sports. Prior to my accident, I played football for Brighton and Hove Albion, however when I was told I would never walk again I knew that my football career was over and everything ahead of me was uncertain. Having never heard of disability sport I was completely unaware that it would even be possible for me to play sport for fun, let alone be able to compete professionally.

I needed extensive hospital treatment

Within the first few weeks in Southampton General Hospital, I had two major surgeries, the first to realign my spine and insert rods to support and hold my back in a stable and fixed position. Whilst recovering from this surgery, I became aware of the severity of my injuries. I used to stare at my feet telling them to move, trying to wiggle my toes and nothing would happen. I had completely lost the ability to move and feel anything from the waist down, I was unable to get out of bed, unable to sit up, and unable to use my arms to do simple tasks like eating and drinking. Thankfully, as time passed and my body began to recover from the trauma of injury my condition slightly improved, allowing me to feed myself and use my arms. However, these developments made me realise that the vast majority of my injuries were permanent and would affect me for the rest of my life.

Passing the time

The nurses and doctors soon became aware of my love of sports when I asked them to help me build a basketball hoop out of a sick bowl and my drip stand. For me, this was just an enjoyable way to pass the time after regaining the strength to lift my arms. For my doctors, it was confirmation that I would need to undergo another surgery. The surgeon explained to my parents that if I wanted to play sport and be active in the future my current metalwork from the first surgery would not be strong enough. He also explained that further surgery to address this problem could be life threatening. My parents had a choice, risk my life in surgery to enable me to live an active life, or opt out of the surgery and face a life where my movement and lifestyle would be even more restricted by my injury. My parents made the decision that I should have the second surgery, the best decision they have ever made. For the second surgery, I was put on life support, my diaphragm and both my lungs were collapsed, one rib was removed and a metal cage was inserted around my spine for extra stability.

“In my life since winning MasterChef in 2016 I have met and worked with some truly amazing people and I have to say Lauren Jones is at the very top of that list. She is an inspiration not only to those with disabilities but to anyone who is facing life’s hurdles. I am very proud to know her.” Jane Devonshire

The switch to Stoke Mandeville

I spent four weeks in Southampton General Hospital recovering from both surgeries before moving to Stoke Mandeville Hospital on the Children’s Spinal Unit to begin rehabilitation and start my life all over again. Whilst in Stoke Mandeville I learnt how to sit up unaided, get dressed, transfer in and out of bed, and began to learn wheelchair skills. I was given my first wheelchair and threw myself into learning how to wheelie, go up and down curbs and ramps, anything to help prepare me to be independent when I was discharged from hospital. I picked up the wheelchair skills quickly and had a reputation for racing down the corridors, leaving skid marks on the floor, constantly falling out of my chair and pushing the limits of my injury wherever possible.

Sporting ambition

The physiotherapists quickly noticed my active and determined attitude and encouraged me to attend weekly sports activities. It was at these sessions where I was recognised for my sporting ability and my name was put forward to attend a Paralympic Trial Day where national coaches could scout for new talent. I was selected for multiple sports but decided that tennis was the sport I wanted to pursue. I had only ever played tennis once at school prior to my accident so I had to approach the sport from two different angles. Like other new wheelchair tennis players, I had to learn the intense physical movement in the chair but also I had to learn the technical skills of a tennis player as I had never played the game. I progressed in the sport quickly and impressed my GB coaches.

Within 2 years of taking-up wheelchair tennis I was winning medals

Within the first two years of taking up the sport, I was selected to represent Great Britain at the World Championships in Korea, where alongside my teammate Alfie Hewett we won the Bronze medal in a deciding doubles match. The following year in 2013 we teamed up again to represent Great Britain and were crowned World Champions after defeating Spain in the final and winning Gold! 2013 was a successful year for me, with my career really starting to develop. I reached World Number 1 in Juniors and proved to everyone I was a player to watch. After success as a Junior, I completed my education and began training full time as a professional athlete.

“What these guys are doing is incredible, they make the game of tennis even more beautiful and unique. They are heroes and an inspiration to many people around the world, including myself.” Novak Djokovic

Present day

Fast forward to today at the age of 24, I have achieved career-high rankings of 24 in the World in Women’s Singles and 19 in the World for Women’s Doubles. I have won the British National Championships 3 times and I am currently ranked 4 in Britain. I am officially one of Britain’s most influential people with a disability having been named on the Shaw Trust Power 100, one of only 11 athletes in the whole of Britain. I have won 10 National Awards, 6 National Titles, 20 International Titles, and 3 World Titles.

Driven to succeed

Whilst I am driven to succeed in my tennis career and focused on winning Grand Slam titles and Paralympic medals, I also hope my story can provide a platform to inspire and positively impact the lives of others. I want to encourage people to challenge and change the perceptions they have towards their own mental and physical capabilities.

Read more about my career