I met Neha for the first time when she came to play the Westchester 2015 September Open. Since then I've seen her at Joola Teams, as well as at couple of collegiate tournaments in which she represented Columbia University.
I had the opportunity to ask Neha a few questions. I hope you enjoy getting to know her!
Quick facts about Neha Aggarwal:
Highest USATT rating 2364
Highest world ranking #18 (Under 18)
2016 National Collegiate Table Tennis Women's Singles - Semifinalist
India Women's National Team Member (2007 - 2014)
2008 Indian Olympic Team Member
India Junior National Team Member (2001 - 2008)
Four-time Indian Junior National Champion
Neha, so the last few months I'm guessing have been crazy for you, right? You moved to a new country, started graduate school, became part of collegiate table tennis, did your first media internship for ITTF, and so on. Let's begin by talking about your new home ...
1. How has the transition from living in India to the U.S. been for you? Do you feel at home in New York?
Honestly, I had a very tough first two months in New York. More than the city, it was about the sudden transition from an athlete to a student. Going to classes, taking down notes, studying in the library, giving presentations, and just using a different skill set altogether was very challenging. It was hard initially, but now its been 7 months and I have been managing schoolwork well, learning new things each day at Columbia, and enjoying my experience in New York. It has been a great journey so far and I am thankful to my parents and family who have supported me always!
As this was my first and last collegiate Nationals, I was raring to do well. Unfortunately, I hurt my back ten days before the tournament, so I could not train well. But overall, I was pleased with my performance. Although I lost in the semi finals, I loved each moment I spent playing competitive table tennis after so long. The Columbia Women's Team finished 10th and the Coed team finished 11th. I had an amazing team and we all supported each other. I am highly impressed with NCTTA as they are all volunteers delivering a great product. I would like to thank and appreciate their efforts towards making this tournament successful. The facility was great. Moreover, live streaming on the ITTF’s YouTube channel and NCTTA’s website gave the tournament wide coverage. The venue facilities were all at par with international standards, and all the players had a great time. I am glad NCTTA is bringing all the U.S. collegiate table tennis athletes together, because sometimes, it is the participation that really matters!
3. Moving on ... You recently interned at the World Team Table Tennis Championships in Kuala Lumpur. Tell about why you wanted to do this, how you landed this internship, and how was the experience. Any lessons you brought home with you?
The ITTF’s media internship was my first ever “work experience” after quitting professional table tennis. Interestingly, after the Olympics, this was my best experience ever. I have to admit, I was rejected this internship last year, so this year, with an improved resume, I was determined to get it. Media is something that really interests me. At Kuala Lumpur, I handled ITTF’s social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat), wrote the featured article of the day for ITTF’s website, interviewed players and officials, and created innovative video content for ITTF’s various platforms. I was working 15-16 hours a day along with the entire media team headed by Matt Pound, ITTF’s Media and Promotions Manager. I loved experiencing the World Championships from a different perspective - not as an athlete, but as a part of the ITTF family. Those 8 days were invaluable, adding media skills to my persona. Additionally, I learned the role of media during such tournaments. Conducting a tournament, especially like the World Championships, is a very hard task, that the ITTF is doing brilliantly.
4. Let's go back in time. Can you share with us how you got started with table tennis? How old were you, who introduced you to the sport, and what is it about table tennis that resonated with you?
Blade: TSP Reflex Action
Forehand rubber: Butterfly Tenergy 64
Backhand rubber: Tibhar Grass D. Tecs
6. How often do you currently play and train?
I am a regular with my fitness. School is hectic, but I try to practice twice a week.
7. Do you still have goals as a player, or do you see yourself staying connected with the sport in some other way?
I essentially quit professional table tennis because I wanted to work in the sports industry as an administrator. I am a die-hard table tennis lover at one hand and a passionate Indian at the other. I see myself, in my own capacity, spreading the popularity of the sport worldwide. My long term aim is to work towards making a positive change in the Indian sports landscape. We, a country of 1.2 billion people, have immense talent that needs to be nurtured well. I dream of India as being one of the top countries in the medal tally at the Olympics one day, and I am determined to work towards making this dream come true.
Undoubtedly, my most major accomplishment is representing India at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. The other tournament that is very close to my heart is the 2015 World Cadet Challenge held in the Dominican Republic where I represented Team Asia and won the gold medal in doubles and the silver medal in teams. I also led the Delhi team to win its historic first ever gold medal at the Indian National Championship in 2013.
I truly believe that hard work along with smart work can do wonders for any individual working towards a goal. Believing in yourself, staying positive, and managing your time well (highly underrated trait) contribute immensely towards handling tough situations successfully and thriving despite adversity.
I believe that every experience, person, event, and situation in life always has something to offer and learn from. I draw inspiration from all these little things in life. My current experience at Columbia and New York is invaluable. I am learning a lot - not just sports business, but other aspects of life in general. A combination of all these, has made life challenging and exciting at the same time.
I am a big fan of my country’s Achanta Sharath Kamal. His achievements in the international arena have elevated the level of Indian table tennis. He has been a very influential person in my life. I admire him for not only his achievements on the court, but also for who he is as a person. I also love watching Ai Fukuhara and Dimitrij Ovtcharov playing.
13. Anything else that you would like to add?
U.S. is the best in the sports business industry with the best practices and best minds working together. U.S. is on top of the world in Olympic sports such as tennis, track, swimming, gymnastics, etc. Then, why not table tennis? I believe that the U.S. table tennis players should make the best use of the facilities and ideas that exist here and work hard to establish their supremacy in the international table tennis arena.