Inspiring Women

Coach Coral

Wymondham’s Coral Warren was awarded an Order of the British Empire Medal for her work with cancer sufferers.
Sarah Hardy finds out more…

At 85, Coral Warren is the personification of inspiring. To list her achievements is almost impossible but it’s fair to say that she has had, and is still having, a tremendous impact on those diagnosed with cancer – and
their families.

The key to it all is, somewhat surprisingly, badminton. Although more of a keen hockey player as a child, Coral reveals she always harboured a desire to play the racquet sport. Opportunity came knocking when she was a young married woman, living in Malaysia with her husband Clive and their young children, Simon and Sandra (Daniel came along later).

Her husband, who worked for the RAF as an engineer, was a keen sportsman, excelling at football in particular, but he had started to play badminton so Coral took lessons with, what sounds like, a tough but encouraging Chinese coach.

‘It was eight weeks before he let me on the court,’ she remembers. ‘We went through every shot and he expected me to work. He said: ‘You work, I coach, you no work, I no coach.’

It seems Coral took to the sport like the proverbial duck to water and was soon playing regularly, both socially and in competitions – sometimes, but not always, partnering her husband. But she laughs: ‘No, it was awful partnering with him – he was self taught, a natural player, and I was the coached player. We had different styles and different ways of playing. I’m a great tactician; I like to evaluate my opponents. I might lose the first game as I’m watching them, seeing their strengths and weaknesses, and working out how I can beat them.’

The pair took their coaching certificates and, when back in Britain, continued to play and coach, both playing for a YMCA team in Norfolk and qualifying as tutor assessors, too. Coral became the head badminton coach at the Norwich Sport Village in the 1980s and it was here that the idea for her self help group emerged. She had been diagnosed with breast cancer herself, and was contacted by a fellow badminton player called Lorraine, who had just had breast cancer surgery, and was devastated that she could no longer play her favourite sport.

‘We had 10 minutes on the court, with me throwing shuttlecocks at her racquet to see how she could move, and adapting these movements and her grip,’ says Coral, adding that the tearful Lorraine was overwhelmed at being empowered to continue to play.

This success motivated Coral to set up both badminton and aqua stretch sessions, with yoga classes following on for those a little more frail. ‘It started as a post surgery support group for women who had had breast cancer but expanded to include all cancer sufferers,’ she says.

When the Sport Village closed in 2006, the group moved to the UEA Sportspark and became known as Sport Action for Women With and After Cancer, and the group still meets every Wednesday morning, with badminton and yoga on offer. There is also a cancer support choir called Shades of Pink, which meets at The Willow Centre in Cringleford, Norwich, on Wednesdays, too. ‘We have performed in hospitals, at care homes and so on,’ says Coral.

All the groups are self funding so money is always tight and Coral is keen to see more people take part. She explains that the pandemic saw all classes stop and now there’s a need to encourage people back. ‘Cancer didn’t stop so the need is still there. We just have to let people know that we are here and we welcome everyone. The classes are for all those diagnosed with or recovering from cancer, to get fit, meet others in the same situation and either renew their love of a sport or learn a new skill.’

Apart from running her self-help groups, Coral is also a senior squad selector for county badminton teams, a voluntary post that can be tricky as you have to choose who plays for what team and when. Our interview was interrupted by a telephone call, as Coral tried to amass her first team squad, with some players feeling a little stodgy post Christmas!

Time away from her sport, and there can’t be much, is spent with her large family. She still lives in her family home in Wymondham, where she has been based for 50 years. Clive sadly passed away in 2015 from lung cancer, but they had three children, and there are now eight grandchildren, three step grandchildren and seven great grandchildren.

And although she doesn’t say so, it’s clear to see that she’s delighted that some of them play badminton, including her son Daniel and his children.

‘It is a great sport,’ she says with passion. ‘It has given me everything – a wonderful life with wonderful opportunities. And it is a great sport for children – it is not expensive, you don’t need much equipment, and it is very good for fitness and flexibility.’

Coral’s commitment to her sport and her various groups was rewarded with an email back in early December 2022 when she was informed that she had been nominated for an Order of the  British Empire Medal.  She says: ‘I just couldn’t believe it and I couldn’t tell anyone for almost a month.’

Now she is looking forward to a local ceremony and turning her mind to that all important question – what to wear? Something new, I tell her and she agrees with a smile.

Find out more about Coral’s groups on 01953 605208.

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