No Limb. No Limits.
By: Sharon Frant Brooks, National Classification Officer
USA Table Tennis, Para Division
Table tennis, the fastest racket sport on the planet. That little white ball can come at you at over 100 miles per hour sometimes with spin that makes the effect of hitting it very unpredictable. Hand speed, footwork, reaction time are all very critical to being successful competitively at this sport. So, how does a person who lives with limb loss successfully compete in this sport where all the forces seem to be against you? This past August 4 to the 14th, 2015, two men traveled to Toronto to participate as part of the 2015 Team USA Para Table Tennis, Para Pan Am team to defy the odds and excel in this challenging sport - Daryl Sterling, Jr., a single right hip disarticulation amputee and Ari Arratia, young man with congenital limb loss at all four extremities.
20 year old, Ari Arratia, from Venice, California, is missing parts of all 4 limbs as a result of a congenital disorder , Dysmelia. But, by focusing on the physical demands of the game, Ari is forced to be aware of what he has, rather than what he is missing. “The legs, the hands. I was just born that way,” says Ari, pointing out what he has been playing without. But, through the use of bilateral lower limb prosthetics, and with a paddle he has modified to be able to be strapped it to the residual stump of his right arm, Arattia is a force to be reckoned with in the sport of table tennis. He began playing at the age of 12, after hearing about how his father and grandfather used to play. He states that at that age, all his classmates saw was his disability. Now, 8 years later, Ari won a silver medal in Class 6-7 in the Toronto, Para PanAm Games in Table Tennis. He hopes, that with competitive successes in the rest of this calendar year, that he may be able to get one of the coveted slots on the US Paralympic Team heading to Brazil in 2016.
Daryl Sterling, Jr. is a 30 year old computer technologist living in San Diego, CA. He lost his right leg at the hip due to a motor vehicle accident when he was 8 years old. “I never dreamed of being able to compete at any sport at the highest level, until I discovered table tennis,” said Sterling in an interview with a San Diego newspaper, last year following the Michael Dempsey International Table Tennis Tournament in his home town of San Diego. While Daryl typically walks using no prosthesis and two forearm crutches, he is required to use only one crutch while playing table tennis, enabling him to use one of his upper limbs as his racket hand and arm. He has to balance on that one crutch and his one remaining leg while tossing up the ball with the crutch arm and striking it with the racket in his other hand just to serve the ball, and then quickly regain his balance and mobility to be ready for the return. Daryl has been increasingly focusing on strengthening and diet as well as table tennis technique to heighten his level of play in the international arena.
What places table tennis apart from most other Paralympic sports is the ability for full participation and inclusion. Both Ari and Daryl play in “regular” table tennis clubs and use the same tables and rules as all other table tennis players. This affords them the opportunity to train, play, and compete at all USA Table Tennis (USATT) facilities and events. The upcoming USATT National Tournament in Las Vegas in December of this year will highlight the best in the country of both able bodied and Para players.
Participation in Para Table Tennis in the United States is implemented and organized through the USATT Para Division, Jasna Rather, Para Competition Director. Eligibility for participation is determined by USATT Para Classification Division, Sharon Frant Brooks, National Classification Officer. For more information about Para Table Tennis, one can refer to the website, USATT.org and going to the Para tab on that website.
Sharon Frant Brooks: Sharon Frant Brooks, MA, OTR/L, ATP/SMS is an occupational therapist and certified assistive technology professional, specializing in complex rehab technology and seating and mobility. She is also an International Table Tennis Federation Senior Paralympic Classifier, as well as being the National Classification Officer for USA Table Tennis. Photo credits: of Ari Arratia – Sharon Frant Brooks. Of Daryl Sterling and the doubles photos of Daryl and Ari, US Olympic Committee.