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Beneath The Surface Of Masters: Pippa Jones and Brenda Grace

The Masters Hub continues to look deeper into the lives and personalities at the heart of the UK Masters community through our ‘Beneath The Surface’ feature.

Look out for video interviews as well as some fantastic underwater photos courtesy of GB Swimstars.

Our 12th feature is with Masters water polo players Pippa Jones and Brenda Grace who play for the English Roses squad and train together at City of Sheffield.

What is your background in water polo?

PJ: I started playing when I was university in the late 70s. I was very much at the forefront of developing the game for women in this country through university polo and eventually through club polo for City of Coventry in the early days. I played for City of Coventry and was part of the initial British women’s water polo team. In 1986, I played at the World Championships and eventually made it to Sheffield and coached City of Sheffield’s women for about 10 years. I also coached the national junior side and I’m fully immersed in water polo now to the extent that I’m now playing again as a Masters player, having had 19 years out in the interim period.

BG: I started playing water polo when I was at university and, at that time, women weren’t officially allowed to play the game, so it was quite a challenge to try and convince the powers that be that girls should be allowed to play  and I was part of a group of women that campaigned very hard to make the game official for women. From university, I then played for City of Coventry. and we won the national championships over a good 10-year period. And then I dropped out of water polo.

I was part of a group of women that campaigned very hard to make the game official for women.

As I grew older I had other commitments so I went on and did other forms of swimming but just for exercise and fitness. In 2010, I came back into the game because I had an opportunity to play in a Masters team with some Australians that were entering the World Masters Championships in Sweden. They were looking to make up numbers so I played with a couple of other English girls and we went along and it just opened my eyes to the possibilities of Masters water polo.

How does the English Roses Masters Water Polo club work?

PJ: It is like a virtual club. We don’t actually have a training base. All the players train at different clubs. I train at City of Sheffield two to three times a week and that fits in quite well. It’s a way of exercising for me. I don’t like exercising on my own. I like to play team games, they’re far more fun!

BG: English Roses provide that flexibility for older players. We have players that are from all over the country. Individual players train as and when they can. I’m very lucky because I live near Sheffield so I can train with the club here who are very welcoming and supporting of older players so I just play with the normal club. But others go to the gym and do swimming in their own time, some of them train with other clubs. It’s a flexible format of water polo and that enables women to continue with their busy lives, have families and fit in training when they can. We then come together for competitions, both domestic and international.

How successful have the Roses been?

PJ: We entered a team this year in the British Water Polo league so that’s the first time a Masters team has done that and we won Division Three. In addition, we have a Masters competition every year, the English Rose Bowl, and we’ve played in European Masters and World Masters.

We weren’t sure people would be up for it but actually they were and it was brilliant!

We took a team to the World Championships in Riccione in 2012 and that was the first time we’ve taken an English team. It was amazing because it showed we could do it. We weren’t sure people would be up for it but actually they were and it was brilliant.

What was it like returning to water polo after time out?

BG: I continued swimming on my own and going to the gym while I wasn’t playing so I stayed relatively fit and never stopped doing exercise. But it was interesting coming back. I was quite nervous and thought I’d forgotten all the rules. It all comes back to you of course, it’s like riding a bike.

But one of the biggest differences for older athletes is your recovery time after training. It’s an intense sport. There’s not much rest and you don’t touch the sides or the bottom. You’re in deep water the whole time and it’s a very physical game with lots of pushing and shoving. As an older athlete, it takes you longer to recover so you have to adjust your training accordingly. But the buzz of the team game is there and that’s what brings us all back.

How often do you train?

PJ: We train at Sheffield two or three times a week for either and hour or two hours.

How do you spend your time away from the pool?

PJ: I’m a senior lecturer in sports development, sport coaching, PE and school sport at Sheffield Hallam University. I live in Derbyshire with my partner Danny and son Joel who plays for City of Sheffield and the GB U19 team.

BG: Working! I have a sport-related job. I work for Steve Wells Associates and we design and build sports facilities. My role in the business is securing funding for sports facilities through funding bids and working with sports clubs on sports development plans and business plans. I also spend a lot of time organising the English Roses Masters Water Polo Club activities. I am the club Treasurer. We have done a lot of development work in 2014 funded by a Sport England grant. We also run an annual Masters Water Polo tournament called the Rose Bowl.

What are your favourite competitions?

PJ: Anything where there is a good quality game. I loved playing in the World Masters in Riccione in 2012. As long as I’m in a team with my mates, I don’t really mind what the competition is!

BG: The World and European Masters Championships and the British Water Polo League.

What is the highest accolade you’ve achieved?

PJ: As a GB international in the 1980s and 90s, I played in the World and three European Championships. As a Masters competitor, a silver medal in the Worlds in Riccione was a great result.

I love being in a team and working together and I love the feeling of being fit.

BG: I played GB Water Polo between 1984 and 1990. As a Masters polo player, I have played for Australian Pink Pointers Team in the FINA World Masters Sweden 2010 (Gold) and for English Roses in the FINA World Masters Championships Italy 2012 (Silver) and the European Masters Championships in Budapest, Hungary in 2013.

What do you love most about water polo?

BG: I love being in the water – especially in an open air pool in the hot sun! I love being in a team and working together and I love the feeling of being fit.

What are you most proud of out of the water?

PJ: Coaching City of Sheffield women for 10 years between 1993 and 2003 during which time we became British champions and reached the final rounds of the European Club Championships twice. The best moment was beating Nice in Nice in front of a huge French home crowd.

BG: I’m very proud to have been part of the group who set up English Roses Masters Water Polo in 2012. It was exactly 30 years after the same women persuaded the ASA to officially accept the women’s game in 1982. Prior to this there was major opposition to us playing what was perceived to be a men’s only game.

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