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A “Hands-On” Approach to Defeating Parkinson’s

by Warren Rosenberg and Nenad Bach

In October of 2019, the Westchester Table Tennis Center and the 501.c.3 organization, ‘PingPongParkinson’, hosted the first Parkinson’s International World Table Tennis Tournament providing an opportunity for athletes afflicted with the condition to compete in a world-class international athletic event. In its inaugural year, sanctioned by the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF), competitors were expected to stringently abide by the existing set of competition rules. Unfortunately, for many of the athletes contending with the neuromuscular manifestations of the disease, these rules were unrealistic and unfair.

One of the inaugural competitor’s mobility was limited to using a wheelchair and, when not competing, he was overcome with periodic episodes of violent tremors but, when competing, was able to stand at the table and play effectively. And he was not alone.

Another of the competitors, Mr. Eiichi Hayashi, was similarly limited in his mobility and postural stability, but was a competent and fierce competitor. On rare occasions during his play, he would momentarily place his free hand on the table edge to stabilize himself and prevent a potentially dangerous fall. Unfortunately, this was against the ITTF rule known as in which a point would be given to his opponent every time Mt. Hayashi’s free hand would touch the table. For a competition in which many, if not most, of the participants had issues of postural stability, this was simply not fair.

Above: This was the move that changed the rules for athletes with Parkinson's, Mr. Eiichi Hayashi with his free hand on the table. Photo credit: Warren Rosenberg

Seeing this was particularly disturbing to Dr. Hiro Kawai, one of the competitors who writes, “I had a doubles match with my teammate Mr. Eiichi Hayashi. But actually, I have never played with him before. I noticed that he had severe freezing and postural instability while we were practicing. He asked the judge whether he could touch the table to prevent possible fall. The judge asked the ITTF chief umpire. But the chief umpire did not allow him to touch the table. We protested to the judge. He recommended Mr. Hayashi to use a cane, but he had never used a cane during a match. Permission to touch the table was not granted, so the match began. Mr. Hayashi had two falls during that match. I was very nervous and confused. I thought that we were not supposed to continue that match after those falls. I felt as if we were being blamed by the people around the table, and even felt hostility from the video cameraman recording his falls.

Suddenly, I saw tears in the eyes of one of our opponents, Mr. Sunil Raghavan (Singapore) at that moment. He strongly protested to the umpire with his tears. He said they didn’t care if Mr. Hayashi touched the table. I will never ever forget that moment. His tear was a magical drop which changed the atmosphere from hostile to positive. Finally, the judge permitted Mr. Hayashi to touch the table. I believe that was the moment that brought us together as one. A sense of unity filled us, as patients fighting against Parkinson’s disease through table tennis. Sunil told me after the tournament that “We are all humans, and he couldn’t agree with the ITTF stressing rules over basic humanity.

The game was re-started. I don’t remember the score of the match at all. We lost. But I got the most precious and touching moment, instead. I believe I travelled all the way from Japan to New York to share this magical moment. After the tournament, I had a talk with one of the umpires from the ITTF, and she said the ITTF should learn more about Parkinson’s disease."

Above: Mr. Naomichi Saito stabilizing his position using his free hand, a move that would not have been allowed without Mr. Hayashi's influence. Photo credit: Warren Rosenberg

Eiichi Hayashi, a competitive table tennis player albeit one contending with the manifestations of Parkinson’s, understood the importance of rules but understood them to be a way to ensure fair competition. For table tennis athletes with Parkinson’s, this was simply not the case. Bringing this concern to the judges at this first world tournament, Mr. Hayashi was able to influence the rules committee of the ITTF to re-write this rule.

Although it took two years to implement, on November 9, 2021, the ITTF instituted a new set of rules that included the following amendment to rule, “In case the player is showing continuous and clear symptoms of unbalance due to the effects of Parkinson’s disease, the umpire may waive the application of article”

On November 22nd, 2023, in a Facebook post by Dr. Hiro Kawai, we saw this disheartening notice, “I have a sad announcement. Mr. Eiichi Hayashi, who played doubles with me at the first World Parkinson's Table Tennis Championship, has passed away. His suggestion to the ITTF referees led to the creation of the current Ping Pong Parkinson's free hand on the table rule. The photo was taken at the very moment when the rule was born. We sincerely pray for his soul rest in peace. We will remember Mr. Hayashi as the father of free hand on the table.”

Eiichi Hayashi January 3, 1945 - October 8, 2023


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