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Kumar's Table Tennis Passion Lifting Him to New Heights

By Matt Hetherington | Jan. 27, 2019, 11:41 a.m. (ET)

When it comes to the battlefield of life, Navin Kumar is a warrior. The Bionic Man has faced more than his share of challenges, but has the attitude of a winner and a big passion for the sport of table tennis. It was that passion that landed two shiny bronze medals around his neck at the 2018 US Open in Orlando, Florida, a potential first for a table tennis athlete with Parkison's Disease.

Kumar has a carbon fiber bionic heart, has endured multiple open heart surgeries and was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease in mid 2014. You can learn more about his lifelong journey here.

It was in the Para Class 6-8 that Kumar took his first bronze medal, following up with another in the under 1500 hardbat event.

"This was by far the best showing for me at any tournament over the past 4 years that I have been competing on this level. I previously had poor showings at my previous USATT-sanctioned events, which lowered my USATT rating from the 1412 range to the 1281 range, with my last tournament being at the Maryland State Championships in June 2018, again, another poor showing for me," admits Kumar, in reflection. 

But for those who know Navin Kumar, who is also about to star in a movie as a SWAT team driver, he is by no means one to fold or give up. 

"I wound up training with 2 longtime friends of mine at Maryland Table Tennis Center... Donn Olsen and Kyongsook Kim. They both helped me to start back from the beginning and focus on my forehand play with inverted rubber, and backhand play with long pips rubber, and helping me improve that transition from forehand to backhand. This type of basic approach probably doesn't seem that significant to a typical table tennis player, but for me, I'm far from a typical player as I compete with young onset Parkinson's Disease and basically have to quickly teach my right hand how to play each time I play table tennis due to the significant Parkinson's tremors that I have in my dominant right hand. The tremors plus muscle stiffness significantly impact my ability to play this sport."

The medals around his neck certainly earned from the many hours of dedication to practice, and a winning attitude. But Kumar quite happily gets out onto the table for the health benefits and his love for the game too.

"I choose to play for the love of this game and I feel better as I play the game. More than winning or losing, my main motivators for playing table tennis are the health benefits and the "family reunion" atmosphere I feel every time I attend our USATT national and international-level events. Even if I lose I win because I see losing as a positive experience as a means for me to learn and grow so that next time I play even better, plus I reap the health benefits no matter if I win or lose."

Kumar is looking forward to the first ever ITTF Parkinson's World Table Tennis Championship which will be held in October this year at the Westchester Table Tennis Center in Pleasantville, New York. The event is being organized with the help of the ITTF Foundation and has been a growing project for the center's owner Will Shortz and Ping Pong Parkinson Founder and musician Nenad Bach. 

"I am very excited to represent the USA in October 2019 when the very first World Parkinson's Table Tennis Championships take place in New York. This is a joint competition being done with ITTF and the Parkinson's community, which is great because I feel this will help ITTF get a better understanding of Parkinson's, which is important for being able to classify people with Parkinson's for Para competitions, and it will help spread awareness of table tennis being a great activity in the fight against Parkinson's, as this is something I have been spreading awareness of ever since I started competing with Parkinson's in December of 2014."

The ITTF plan to focus more on the health benefits of table tennis, as the ITTF Foundation expands on it's mission to deliver table tennis to many diverse groups of individuals. 

For Navin Kumar the message is simple, it's all about how you define your own life - and table tennis helps play a role for him.

"There is a saying I created that nicely describes my philosophy on competing with Parkinson's. It's the DIFFICULT times in life and how we CHOOSE to deal with things that shape and define us. I choose to face the tough times with a positive attitude, which gives me the strength to succeed, even if I fail at first. Embracing failure and seeing it as a learning experience makes me stronger and more positive. I refuse to let Parkinson's stop me, no matter how much my hand shakes nor how much my muscles throughout my body feel stiff and sore. I adapt and roll with the punches and no matter what, keep smiling and stay positive."

Congratulations on the medals and on continuing to be a great role model Navin!