My Paralympic journey started well before I began playing table tennis. l was born with pseudo-achondroplasia, a type of dwarfism characterized by shortness of limbs and orthopedic issues related to bone and joint development. As a result, I encounter severe pain in my knees and hips. But at the same time, it is my physical disability that allows me to pursue my ultimate goal of going to the Paralympics.
I started playing table tennis when I was five. I would go to junior training every Saturday to learn all the basic strokes, spins, footwork, and strategies of table tennis. I loved playing matches, but it took two years before I was tall enough to see over the table and win a match. It wasn't until I turned twelve that I chose to drop most other activities and focus on table tennis.
My decision was influenced by two major events. The day before my twelfth birthday I had my second leg surgery. I couldn't walk for several months and struggled to regain strength in my legs. It was during this time that I realized how much I missed playing table tennis. And later that year, I got to participate in my first international para table tennis event, the Mike Dempsey Memorial, which gave me major goals to strive for.
For those of you who are unfamiliar, Para Table Tennis is an international sport that is part of the Paralympics. Many tournaments are held around the world. Players who do well in these tournaments qualify for the Paralympics and World Championships. To qualify for the Paralympics you need to go to a certain number of tournaments and earn a high enough world ranking. Only one of these tournaments is held in North America each year so American players must travel to South America, Europe, and Asia.
In June of 2017, I was fortunate to go to Europe with other U.S Para National Team members. These tournaments yielded my best results ever. First, I won gold medals in Men's Class 6 Singles and Men's Class 6 Teams at the Spanish Open in Barcelona. One week later, at the Bayreuth Open in Germany, I won a silver medal in the team event and another gold medal in my singles event, defeating the current Paralympic gold medalist along the way. These surprising results catapulted my world ranking from #34 to #12, and helped me qualify for the 2018 World Championships in Lasko, Slovenia.
After returning from Germany and Spain, I underwent a third surgical procedure to correct my legs. The purpose of this operation was to realign both knee joints. The doctor needed to break each leg above and below the knee. Recovering from this latest setback has been difficult and I've had to work harder than ever before.
I'd like to thank USA Table Tennis, the US Olympic Committee, and my school, Lakeville North, for all the contributions they've made in getting me to this point. Over the next three years I'll be doing everything I can to make my Paralympic dream a reality. I'm counting on your energy and support to push me forward.
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