In sport for some, the simple act of playing is winning.
Such is the story of Tamara Crawford at this week’s World Veterans Championships in Las Vegas.
Since 2011 the 55-year-old naturalized Canadian has had 12 surgeries for cancer in the spine, was told that she had only a 20% chance of walking again, had her house burn down around her, divorced and lost her mother.
Yet, this week at the Las Vegas Convention Crawford has found joy and happiness in her life again by joining more than 4,000 players from 86 countries in the 19th edition of the biennial event that is the largest table tennis tournament in the world.
“I’m a table tennis player and love it,” said Crawford. “Not being allowed to work and suffering so many loses has taken its toll. Table Tennis has given me a reason to get up and get busy living again. The table tennis community is a very friendly happy place where I have made new friends and met so many good people. I’ve started to enjoy living again; I had lost that after all the events since 2011.
“I remember lying in the spinal unit listening to men and women screaming after being told they would never walk again. I know many people who have lost to cancer,” continued Crawford. “I have been so lucky and have to be grateful that I am still here walking. I want to see my sons marry, one has. I want to be a grandmother. The day I left for Las Vegas my sons said to me, ‘ mum have fun, be careful and just know that we are so very proud of you’. Who gets to hear that I am so lucky, that moment will always stay with me.”
While Crawford played table tennis as a child growing up in England, she stopped played and only picked it up in December of last year.
“I was bored watching TV, taking life easy and suffering from depression, “ said Crawford.
She found the Elite Table tennis Club near her home in Mississauga, Ontario and started playing.
”I asked if I could try and play and they have brought me back to life. I sometimes suffer great pain from playing but love the sport and the people. Because of their patience and help, I am able to play in the WVC in Las Vegas,” she said.
In February somebody suggested that she play in the WVC. She said yes and signed up to play in the 55 and over singles and doubles competition in her very first tournament in her life.
“Talk about go big or go home! I was so afraid I would not be good enough to even get a single point. I was so nervous; I even threw up at the hotel just from nerves,” said Crawford.
In round robin singles play, Crawford wasn't able to progress, losing her three matches. However with her partner Hong Xin the pair won one match in the doubles competition.
Despite losing in the first round of the Women's 55 singles consolation, in the doubles consolation with partner Hong Xin, Crawford found some success. The pair were able to defeat two teams, one from Germany and the next from USA/Japan. In the semifinal round they were defeated by their Canadian teammates.
“I have no great expectations other then to see great players play and to not embarrass myself,” said Crawford. “We all have a story some worse then others. But we are all here to play the same game. I love it.”
At the conclusion of the event, it is fair to say, Tamara Crawford is a champion among the 4,000 competitors, perhaps not for her match results, but for her persistence and positive outlook.
Keep looking forward Tamara and we hope table tennis continues to bring more joy to your life.