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You've Come a Long Way

by Warren Rosenberg, MetroSports Magazine

“You’ve come a long way, baby” was the slogan used in one of the most famous advertising campaigns of the late 1960s,

celebratingthe strides made in the women’s liberation movement.

It was in early September of 2009 when 56 year old Lynne Tombs, a woman coping as best she could with the symptoms of her Parkinson’s Disease, received some disappointing news from her home town table tennis club. She was asked not to participate on doubles night at the Gloucestershire club out of concern that her spastic movements might cause her to accidentally hit and injure other players(1).

Just ten years later in Pleasantville, NY, Asako Katagiri and Yurie Kato of Japan, both Parkinson’s patients, claimed revenge by capturing the Women’s Doubles Gold medal, an honor that would have been denied Lynne Tombs a decade earlier. Also capturing Gold in the Women’s Singles event was Pleasantville native, Margie Alley.

Above: (Left) Yurie Kato and Asako Katagiri in the Women's Finals match, (Right) Margie Alley in her Gold medal performance. Photo Credit: Warren Rosenberg

On the weekend of October 11-13, 2019, the Westchester Table Tennis Center hosted the first ever ITTF Parkinson’s World Table Tennis Championship tournament. Over 60 athletes from 12 countries gathered for the three day event to celebrate their abilities and highlight the growing consensus that table tennis has a place as a potential therapy to help delay or at least alleviate the symptoms of this disease. In a true showing of international diversity, participants included representatives from Brazil, Colombia, Croatia, Denmark, Germany, India, Japan, Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland and the U.S.A.

Championed by a collaboration between two avid table tennis players Will Shortz, owner of the Westchester Table Tennis Center who is also the crossword puzzle editor for The New York Times and puzzle master for National Public Radio, and Nenad Bach, a Croatian-American recording artist, composer, performer, producer and peace activist and a Parkinson’s patient, the pair has traveled the world promoting the tournament and recruiting both competitors and sponsors.

Above: From left, ITTF Foundation Director, Leandro Olvech, Ping Pong Parkinson founder Nenad Bach, and ITTF President Thomas Weikert Below: Women's medalists at the award ceremony.

ITTF Foundation Director, Leandro Olvech, told MetroSports Magazine that, “It has been a real pleasure to be part of this historic event that showed the powerful tool that sports, and particularly table tennis, is. The ITTF Parkinson´s World Table Tennis Championships is part of our program ‘TT4Health’ where the aim is to promote a healthy lifestyle by playing more table tennis. The feeling and emotions from Pleasantville are something I will never forget, and as Nenad said, they didn´t just play for themselves, they played for the 10 million people around the World with Parkinson Disease who might be laying in their couches.”

ITTF President, Thomas Weikert summed up the event by noting that it is “shaking the world. All the participants were so enthusiastic, so ambitious, it was a real pleasure to see. I enjoyed every minute of my visit, and so did all the players.”

Indeed, as the Women’s Singles Gold Medalist, Margie Alley, told us, “It’s hard to put into words the fulfillment and joy that I experienced from participating in this tournament. I had only been thinking about the table tennis aspect of it however it became clear that the social aspect of interacting with such an inspirational group of fellow athletes took on much more power. I felt proud of being a winner but I felt more honored to be part of a community that came together for the first time to make history. It was memorable in ways that I would have never imagined also I am proud to be the gold medal winner! Hard work and training does pay off!

Above: Good sportsmanship prevails after a hard-fought battle in the Women's Singles Final

And, by the way, men were represented as well with the Gold Medal in the the Men's Doubles going to the German team of Thorsten Boomhuis Holger Teppe and Gold Medals in the three Men's Singles classes going to Hamid Ezzat-Ahmadi of the USA, Ilya Rozenblat of the USA and Holger Teppe of Germany.

Above: From left, Thorsten Boomhuis and Holger Teppe; Hamid Ezzat-Ahmadi; Ilya Rozenblat. Photo Credit: Warren Rosenberg

and Since its founding in 2011, the Westchester Table Tennis Center (WTTC) has been a venue for internationally competitive table tennis contested by some of the best athletes in the world including many Olympians. It has also become a valued and treasured community resource hosting youth programs, charitable fundraisers and, most recently, therapeutic activity for individuals diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. The WTTC has been hosting a weekly Parkinson’s night, held every Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. as part of their “Ping Pong Parkinson” campaign. The program is, in part, based on the premise that exercise, and especially ping pong, may be beneficial for Parkinson’s patients, “because it exercises so many parts of the body and brain while reinforcing timing, rhythm and balance” as stated by the National Parkinson’s Foundation.

The University of California at San Francisco’s (UCSF) Parkinson’s Disease Research Center has produced an Exercise and Physical Therapy Guide for Patients with Parkinson’s Disease1. According to the UCSF Center’s Guide, the most effective activities are those that “require large, rhythmical movements through a full range of motion.”(2) Also cited in the Guide are “exercises that demand attention, repetition, progression of difficulty with spaced practice over time.” In general, exercises “challenging the individual to change tempo, activity or direction…”2 For those who have watched any of the competitions held at the WTTC or are otherwise familiar with the game, that sounds like a pretty accurate description of table tennis.

(1) The Telegraph. September 18, 2009


Look for more complete coverage of the inaugural ITTF Parkinson’s World Table Tennis Championship including interviews with other players in the upcoming issue of MetroSports Magazine.

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