A man from Southampton who became a professional wheelchair tennis player has become the latest rookie driver to join Team BRIT.
39-year-old Chris Overend has now signed with the team and is beginning a development programme with the aim of entering his first race by October.
Chris was born with development dysplasia of the hips and spent years from the age of 12 suffering with injuries and pain caused by an undiagnosed problem. When he was 24, he was skiing in France when he suffered a severe back spasm undoing his ski boots. When he returned home a surgeon confirmed that during puberty his femoral artery became pinched, causing his left hip and pelvis to become deformed. The top of his femur had rotated 90 degrees from where it should be and his right hip was 30% bigger than it should be and was partially dislocated.
Prior to this, Chris had forged a successful career as a photographer, working with London Fashion week and travelling the world on commissions for titles such as the Observer, GQ and Vogue. He also helped photograph the prime minister at Downing Street. His diagnosis meant that everything about his life would have to change.
Chris explains; “The surgeon’s words sent a shiver down my spine. He told me my hips were a ‘ticking time bomb’ and that I had to make some major life changes.
“I had surgery and a month into my recovery I fell, tearing my ACL and meaning I couldn’t bear weight at all. My left leg shrunk and became useless, I lost 2 stone and I became very depressed and withdrawn, which was the start of my mental health battle. I saw a picture of myself on crutches and just burst into tears at what I looked like. Thankfully with kindness and love from my family and friends I got through it.”
After another operation to get his recovery back on track, Chris returned to work as a photographer for a short time, even managing to technically coordinate a shoot for Disney from the back of a van, but eventually had to give up the profession. He moved on to become a technical Instructor of photography at Solent University in 2009 where he has been since. His hips continue to dislocate and he has scoliosis of the spine causing ongoing pain which he has had to learn to manage.
After a chance lunchtime visit to an open air screening of Wimbledon in 2017, Chris was introduced to wheelchair tennis. He started looking into the sport and tried out at a local session which was bring run by the head of Team GB. He was signed up by the scout on the spot, and joined a wheelchair tennis development programme, training with Paralympic hopefuls.
He was supported by the Dan Maskell Tennis Trust, which helped him secure a bespoke wheelchair, and in his second year of competing he won 3 out of 4 doubles tournaments including the national finals, also achieving a world ranking.
Chris continues, “I was brought up around tennis, both my parents were successful racketball players, so it wasn’t too much of a shock
when I took to it like a duck to water – I just never saw it in the plan for life! I haven’t played since the start of the first lockdown but I’m now teaching a young lad in the GB Junior Development Squad which I’m really enjoying.
“A move into motorsport is just incredible for me. I’ve had a love of racing since I was child when I would regularly go to Brands Hatch to watch. Before now, my only experience of competing has been in an endurance kart race when I was 16 which I won and through gaming. I was obsessed with Gran Turismo as a teenager and as an adult I was lucky to win a regional shootout sim racing event hosted by Aston Martin.”
Chris was having difficulty in using a race simulator at home and found details of Team BRIT’s world-leading hand controls online. He got in touch in 2020 and after a visit to the team at its Dunsfold HQ and a trial on the team’s racing simulator, he realised the potential ahead for racing. Chris was assessed by coaches at a track day and will now start his development programme using the team’s controls.
Team BRIT’s drivers are currently competing in the Britcar Championship and Chris hopes to join his first race at Donington on Sunday 24th October in the team’s BMW 118i. He will next be on track at Silverstone for coaching on Monday 16th August.
Chris said: “It’s hard to sum up what this opportunity means to me. Being a racing driver is something I’ve dreamt of since I was a kid, and even more so when I was a teenager, spending 5 or 6 hours a night racing sims. It’s so surreal to be given this chance but I’m determined to work hard to get as fit and healthy as I can. I want to be part of the team that makes it to Le Mans and I’ll be doing all I can to get there.”