…and with less fanfare, so has Natalia Partyka who will compete in both the Olympics and Paralympics
At the start of her first-round table tennis match against Denmark’s Mie Skov, Poland’s Natalia Partyka had a small but vocal contingent of fans from her homeland supporting her.
By the decisive seventh game of her come-from-behind 4-3 victory, Partyka had won over most of the neutral fans in attendance too.
It was no surprise to see fans clad in Union Jack face paint or Brazilian T-shirts get behind Partyka because the 23-year-old has one of the most remarkable stories of any Olympian. Partyka, who was born without a right hand and forearm, is one of only two athletes who will compete at both the Olympics and Paralympics this year.
The story of South Africa’s Oscar Pistorius has gotten more publicity because the idea of a double amputee sprinter is so improbable, but Partyka’s path to London is also compelling.
In an interview with MSNBC this month, Partyka said she was 7 years old when she first began following 11-year-old sister Sandra to the table tennis hall in their native Gdansk, Poland. Partyka’s primary goal at that point was merely to get good enough to beat her older sister. When she finally did win, it wasn’t only her sister she could defeat.
At age 11, Partyka represented Poland at the 2000 Paralympics, becoming the youngest player in any sport to compete. At age 15, she won a gold medal in the singles at the 2004 Paralympics and a silver in the team event. And at age 19, she won gold again in the 2008 Paraylmpics and also made her Olympic debut in Beijing.
The only impact Partyka’s disability has on her table tennis game is her serve. Whereas other players begin their serve by tossing the ball with their off hand, she has learned to do the same by cradling the ball in the crook of her right elbow.
Besides that, there is no indication she is competing with just one arm. Partyka plays with grace and power and has risen all the way to No. 68 in the world.
It’s unlikely Partyka will be much of a threat to medal either in the individual competition or the team competition because the top players from Asia are simply too strong, but it’s a great accomplishment that she has made it to London at all. And rest assured that whenever she competes, she’ll have the crowd on her side.
AND more on the inspirational Natalya Partyka:
London: Of all the success stories at the London Olympics 2012, one stands out as an inspiration for millions battling physical disability. Table tennis player Natalia Partyka of Poland, who was born without an arm, has won hearts at both the Paralympic and the open games for her resilience and grit.
Partyka, 23, reached the last 32 of the Olympic women’s singles event beating Denmark’s Mie Skov 4-3 but she lost to Li Jie of the Netherlands during their match on Sunday.
When Partyka prepares to serve you realise just how impressive she is. She was born without a right forearm and has to carefully balance the ball in the folds of skin at the end of her elbow before dropping it on to her swishing bat.
She is one of only two people to compete in both the Olympics and its Paralympic cousin this year, the other being South African blade runner Oscar Pistorius.
“For me, it (disability) is nothing,” she told reporters after losing her third round match to Netherlands’ Jie Li. “I am playing the same lines as the others. I am doing the same exercises.
“We have the same goals and the same dreams and I can play like them. I can serve and don’t have any problems.
“I get a bit bored about being asked about disability all the time.” She is happy, however, if her achievements act as an inspiration to others. “Maybe someone will see me and realise that their own disability is not the end of the world,” she said. “Maybe someone will look at me and think they can achieve something bigger than they thought. Maybe sometimes you have to work a little bit harder if you really want to do something. If I’m an inspiration I can’t complain.”
Her individual Olympic campaign was ended when she gave away a two-game lead to lose 4-2 but she still has the team event to come and then she must defend the Paralympic title she won four years ago in Beijing.
“When I play here in the Paralympic Games I probably will be at an advantage, having played here already,” she added. “But everybody else will get the chance to practice here first, so they’ll be well prepared.”