“Tennis is my life. I play every day and it gives me loads of confidence.”
Three-time Special Olympics (SO) World Games gold medalist, Lily Mills, has been selected as a wildcard for the Australian Open Persons with Intellectual Impairment Championships. The competition, taking place from 26 – 28 January at Melbourne Park, will see Lily as one of the eight athletes competing in the women’s 2024 PWII Championships in Australia in 2024.
Lily is part of her local SO program in Camden, England and represented Team SO Great Britain (SOGB) at the Special Olympics World Games Berlin 2023 earlier this year where she earned a gold and bronze medal.
Lily is an avid tennis enthusiast as well as a player, but obstacles in her life at a young age made her journey to playing sports challenging.
Just four days after she was born, Lily contracted meningitis and later septicemia which left her critically ill and on a life support machine. Lily fought bravely and was diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder called galactosaemia, which can impact up to one in 45,000 babies. The condition prevents her body from turning galactose into glucose and it increases toxic levels of galactose in the body. If left untreated, it causes vomiting, jaundice, brain damage, and in extreme cases, death.
Lily often watched her brother play tennis while growing up, but when she took interest in the sport herself, members of the club suggested she may not be able to hold the racquet and did not encourage her to pursue the sport. Lily’s family saw how much interest she had in tennis, and they started to play at home where she quickly picked up the technical skills and started to compete more regularly with her brother and friends.
Lily’s mother, Tallulah, commented saying, “When she was 12, we went to Islington Tennis Centre and the coaches welcomed her and got her playing other juniors straight away. She’s never looked back.”
As she got older, Lily got more involved in the sport and local competitions and was introduced to Special Olympics. After a few years of competing in regional events, Lily competed in her first Special Olympics GB National Games in 2017 where she won two silver medals and was then nominated for Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi in 2019. After being selected for Abu Dhabi, she competed and won two gold medals for Team SOGB.
“Being part of Special Olympics GB has given Lily a sense of achievement and a purpose,” said Tallulah. None of these amazing opportunities would have happened without tennis and the competition opportunities within the sport. She’s playing around 15 – 20 hours a week over six or seven days. Her life revolves around her love for tennis. She’s incredibly strong and I’m so proud of her for overcoming so many different challenges, to be here now playing tennis so regularly and about to compete in Australia.”
Through Lily’s love of tennis and her participation with Special Olympics, Lily is working on completing her SOGB Athlete Leadership program. Through the skills she has acquired from sport, SO and her peers, Lily’s next goal after competing in Australia is to become even more independent and to find a place of employment, where she can begin her career.