NOT many couples can boast of taking almost 160 years of life experience between them when they step into the sporting arena.

But then, Jim and Lesley McGowan are not just any sporting couple.

Back in February, we reported on the Helensburgh couple’s triumph in the ladies’ and gents’ over-75 doubles competitions at the Scottish Veterans tennis tournament in Glasgow.

Lesley’s victory, at the age of 77, came less than a year after she had a hip replaced following a fall on the tennis court – while Jim’s success, his first Scottish title, was secured just six months before his 80th birthday.

Both are long-serving (that’s enough tennis puns – Ed) members of Craighelen Lawn Tennis and Squash Club, and we recently caught up with the pair – isolating at home, well away from the tennis court – to find out the secret to their sporting longevity.

READ MORE: Craighelen couple triumph at Scottish veterans' tournament

The first thing to mention is that the McGowans are not the only tennis players in that age bracket at Craighelen, in the Helensburgh area, or indeed in the west of Scotland.

“We’re actually very lucky in the west of Scotland,” Jim said, “because there are competitions here for veterans in all age groups, not just 40-plus – there are knockout cups and leagues for over-55s, over-60s and more.

“Craighelen, Helensburgh and Cardross all have members who are still playing tennis over the age of 70, and lots more who are over 60, so there are still opportunities for all ages to play tennis, from juniors to adults and all the way through to veterans of our age.”

Playing tennis together was one of the couple’s pursuits after they met while Jim was working in Coventry; they were able to continue doing so during a five-year spell in Australia, where the McGowans regularly played on a neighbour’s full-size lawn tennis court, and when the family moved to Helensburgh back in 1979, one of the first things they did was join up at Craighelen.

“Tennis is a sport you can always get better at,” Lesley added.

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“We used to do coaching for adults at Craighelen, and we found there were lots of adults who were keen to learn, and improve, and develop a skill – and no matter your age, there’s something special about being able to get outdoors, run around and hit a ball.

“The average age at a lot of tennis clubs in the west of Scotland is quite high, and we all know how important it is to try and attract more junior players – but we also know how lucky we are to be well enough and able enough to play tennis, and to still enjoy it.”

The McGowans were the organisers for many years of a long-running Easter junior tournament at Craighelen, which attracted young players from all over Scotland and beyond – including, on more than one occasion, Andy and Jamie Murray.

And they even met Sir Andy on a visit to the Grand Slam champion’s hotel, Cromlix House near Dunblane, for Jim’s 76th birthday in 2016.

“We’d just finished lunch,” Lesley added, “and we looked out the window, and there was Andy, so we went out and introduced ourselves – and he was lovely.”

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