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Meet Wimbledon’s hidden army of volunteers who are keeping the Championships safe

Furious with himself for losing the second set of an ill-tempered clash with tennis’ wind-up merchant in chief, Nick Kyrgios, Stefanos Tsitsipas recklessly swiped a ball into the Court One crowd on Tuesday. It whistled past the head of a fortunate onlooker, missing by mere inches.

The incident was a reminder that spectating at The Championships, Wimbledon, comes with a unique element of risk. Luckily for the crowd, St John Ambulance’s volunteers are always on standby, ready to help should an unexpected injury occur.

The charity treats thousands of attendees each year across its four treatment centres, dotted around the All-England Lawn Tennis Club. More than 350 volunteer first-aiders, nurses, paramedics and doctors are on site over the two-week tournament. The players are looked after by a separate, elite medical team, with specific experience in treating on-court injuries.

Spectators queue for strawberries and cream at the 2022 Wimbledon Championships (Photo: Steven Paston/PA Wire)

Rosemary Waddy, a 77-year-old retired doctor, has worked with St John Ambulance (SJA) for almost 40 years, helping at the last seven championships. As a volunteer support member, Rosemary, who lives in Surrey, works closely with the charity’s on-site command team, providing regular updates on the condition of patients. She also oversees the first aid posts, ensuring they are properly equipped to run effectively.

she told Yo: “There are 42,000 people at Wimbledon every day. When you think of it like that, it’s a small town. And if anything can happen in a small town, it can happen here.

“As far as I know, we haven’t had a pregnancy and we haven’t delivered a baby yet. But anything else we’ve dealt with. You have your strokes, your heart attacks, your serious medical conditions.”

Fans watch the big screens on the Hill during day four of the 2022 Wimbledon Championships (Photo: Adam Davy/PA Wire)

While errant tennis balls can cause the occasional bump or bruise, SJA staff are predominantly kept busy by the July heat, which accounts for the majority of the 150 patients they treat each day on average. Spectators spend hours on end in direct sun watching lengthy matches unfold, putting themselves at risk of heat exhaustion.

A few years ago, Rosemary was dispatched to Center Court after a spectator fainted during a tense women’s quarter final. “The match was on tenterhooks, five games all and deuce in the final set, and suddenly there was this commotion,” she said.

The umpire, who was seated opposite, paused play so the ailing woman could receive treatment. “We managed to get the lady and daughter out very quickly,” Rosemary said.

“Obviously, you don’t want to disrupt a match and certainly not at a critical point as that one was at the time. By the time she arrived at the first aid centre, someone was already telling her ‘You’re on Facebook’. This seemed to perk her up, as she asked: ‘Can you send me a copy of that?’”

Empty seats on Court No 1 during the fourth round match between Croatia’s Petra Martic and Kazakhstan’s Elena Rybakina (Photo: Reuters)

Rosemary recommends wearing a hat and applying sun cream – just be careful not to use too much. “If they apply too much and start sweating, it begins dripping into their eyes and you can get a potentially nasty chemical burn.

“We have to be very careful about washing that out thoroughly to make sure that they don’t get long-term problems.”

Alcohol consumption is part and parcel of the Wimbledon experience, with spectators strongly favoring Pimm’s over Robinsons squash, which ended its 86-year partnership with the tournament this year.

“They start early, and they carry on, so some people are worse for wear, but most are fairly moderate”, Ms Waddy said. “It’s something we are used to”.

Henman Hill, or Murray Mound, is the meeting place for fans looking to enjoy a drink alongside the tennis without having to maintain courtside etiquette. The steep slope becomes busy and boisterous, with the risk of a pile-up growing as each day progresses.

Spectators on Murray Mound after watching Cameron Norrie on the big screen win his Gentlemen’s Singles quarter-final match against David Goffin (Photo: Adam Davy/PA Wire)

“It gets fairly tight towards the end of the second week, when they’re all sitting there,” Rosemary said. “Someone will say ‘There’s a collapse on the hill!’ and we have to work out how to get at it without clambering over everybody else”.

Rosemary’s years of service were recognized last year, when she was invited to Center Court’s legendary Royal Box to watch a day’s play. While no royals were present, Floella Benjamin, a former actress and member of the House of Lords, and the one-time Wimbledon champion Angela Mortimer were just feet away.

There is a “family atmosphere” among the St John staff at Wimbledon, Rosemary says, which keeps her coming back. “You meet people that you haven’t seen for the past year and pick up the conversation exactly where you left off.”

Twenty-five young cadets, all under 18, shadow volunteers at the tournament each year, gaining valuable experience upon which to build. Witnessing their growth is one of Rosemary’s favorite aspects of volunteering. “Last week, we received messages while on duty from two former cadets,” she said. “One qualified as a doctor and another one qualified as a paramedic. These are people that have come up from cadets, enjoy doing first aid and then that’s made them change their life.”

Volunteers have traveled from as far as Aberdeen and Northern Ireland to take part this summer, with some fully employed medics booking two weeks’ annual leave to ensure they could make it. Rosemary added: “They say that, unless you’ve had the Wimbledon experience, you haven’t really done St John.”

To learn more about how to volunteer with St John Ambulance visit the charity’s website

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