No Covid in sight as Gavin gets more than 2,000 playing tennis
There are many people who will look back on Covid-19 and thank Gavin Manders for helping them through it.
At a time when other sports events were forced to pause, Manders Tennis Management got more than 2,000 people outside and running around.
It grabbed the attention of the Central American and Caribbean Tennis Confederation, which invited MTM "to speak and present to the whole region on our approach and creativity to run these events through such a difficult time".
"In a nutshell, through the pandemic we've been recognised throughout the region for the good work that we've been doing – using tennis as a positive outlet to promote physical and mental health," said Mr Manders, the island's No 2 seed who was, for years, Bermuda's top player.
"Here locally, we've had 23 events where most of the other sports were shut down, and we were able to use tennis to get a lot of the community out. [The Cotecc presentation was] a very big accomplishment for such a small island to be used as an example for the region."
Government buy-in came after MTM showed they were able to follow Covid protocol. Tennis players of all levels signed up for the programme at the Fairmont Southampton courts.
"We really got a lot of the different demographics of the community out and just continued to push forward and use it as a positive outlet through that time," Mr Manders said.
"We were able to take [tennis] and bring it into the pandemic and use it as something to really make a difference here, where there were so many people struggling."
As the number of players surpassed 2,000 MTM transformed from a company into "more of a movement".
"We were already one of the most active tennis clubs on the island but, through the pandemic, if you think about it, there was nothing else you could do," he said.
As tennis has "built-in social distancing" he put his efforts into creating a way for people to access the courts while following government's Covid guidelines.
Ultimately, MTM was allowed two, and often three times the number of participants as other sports.
The Royal Gazette, Inside Sports Bermuda and social media all helped get the word out.
"There was nothing else going on and people were really struggling, trying to find things to do," he said. "The biggest event we had, had 136 entries. The average number of tennis entries in Bermuda at an event is 20, maybe 15. But it was through collaboration – working closely with the Ministry of Youth and Sports – and then coming up with creative ways that we were able to show the government look, we're not trying to have tennis events just for this demographic."
His hope, said Mr Manders, was to have tennis become the leading sport "in promoting physical and mental health".
"It can make a difference in people's lives," he said. "People are really struggling right now with depression and anxiety and all these different things."
Participants ranged in age from eight to 64. They were coached by Mr Manders and "a very small team" - Jovan Whitter, who left the island in September, Tariq Simons and Earl Leader.
"[Tariq is Bermuda's No 1] player. He has been pushing and that’s also part of what helped this. We're using our life to share our passion, to make a difference and share the lifestyle. And a lot of people have got out and started playing tennis because of that.
"But the reason it's called the MTM movement is because of what we are, the MTM family. That’s how this thing grew within the community because the way we run it is like a family."
Maceo Dill, the government sports development officer, confirmed they had ticked all the boxes and they were good to go.
"Once we showed them the difference we were making, that’s how we were able to get this clearance. It was getting everyone to collaborate together, and do this the correct way. Most [sporting groups] just said it was too much. It was tricky to figure out how to do it but the difference that we were making – that type of energy and that type of positivity and love that I was getting – made it all worth it."
Despite the number of people involved, Covid was never a concern.
"We never had one case spread anywhere within our facility through all these events, which is something I'm proud of. Obviously the other stuff is great but we can also say look, even while doing all of this, because of the way we did it we never had one case spread to one person in this facility.
"But really there was only one event that was during a phase where we could have a whole lot of people down there. Outside of that it was strategically done so when we had matches they had to be spread out and there were a lot of things we had to do to make it possible."
The pandemic has helped show the world just how important it is to live a healthy lifestyle, he added.
"We need to be more conscious of how we take care of our bodies – being more active, being out in the open more instead of jammed up in offices and houses."
His joy has come from "just seeing the difference we were able to make in people's lives".
"Getting footballers and cricketers and other people out was kind of special. Once we saw people I had never seen coming out to play, coming out to watch, we knew were on to something and really could use this to make a difference."
For more information: www.mtm.bm. Follow @mtmbermuda on Instagram and Manders Tennis Management on Facebook