Tennis player from Saffron Walden celebrates her 90th birthday

90-year-old tennis player

90-year-old tennis player - Credit: Archant

A tennis playing, cricket-loving, larger-than-life woman living in Saffron Walden turned 90 this week.

90-year-old tennis player

90-year-old tennis player - Credit: Archant

As a retired physiotherapist, Ruth Smith is well placed to keep fit and healthy, and is a founding member of the tennis club where she still plays to this day.

She helped to raise money for the creation of The Clavering Tennis Club, which is behind the village hall, and this week they threw her a birthday party with games and food.

Although she no longer plays competitively, she trains with the team under Andy Lingley, who she described as a “brilliant” coach.

Ruth took up tennis with her husband, Eric, but said cricket was her “true passion”.

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She said: “I was really keen on it, and I was in the first team [at school].”

Every night Ruth does static contractions of her muscles while lying in bed, which she says is the way to keep young.

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Ruth said: “Don’t give up, you exercise to play, not play to exercise – you have to strengthen your muscles but it’s more about a mind set.

“In my personal experience of getting old, I realised that everything started hurting, with aches and pains, and although I was always be quite energetic, I wasn’t doing exercise per se, I was just moving about.”

After doing the contractions the pains went away and she is “really chuffed” at how “hugely better” she is.

Her family also took her on a surprise birthday trip to Woodbridge last weekend.

Ruth’s maiden name is Rainbow and her family is big – three sisters, a brother, six children and ten grandchildren.

Three of her children went to school in the area – her youngest two, Fabian and Oliver, went to what was then called Newport, and her middle child, Jenny, went to County High for sixth form.

The day she met her husband, Eric, they hit it off instantly – and sent each other love letters six days a week for a year while they couldn’t see each other every day.

He was teaching and she was learning her trade at The Royal London Hospital, where one of the patients she treated was the first person in the UK, an American, to get a hip replacement.

Just after the war while she was learning, the staff had to fashion their own equipment because of the scarcity of supplies and they once plastered a roller-skate onto someone’s foot to help them exercise their hip. She was then taken to an ex-TB hospital, which had been turned into a care home, and was horrified to find the people living there had bed sores as big as dinner plates – after which she spent ten years working there trying to help.

Ruth said: “It was really enjoyable and so rewarding to get them walking again and ultimately trying to get them home.”

The family moved to Saffron Walden because Eric had a teaching job at Hockerill in Bishops Stortford, and Ruth gave up work, instead running keep-fit classes, swimming classes for the Women’s Institute, and raising two more children.

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