5 days to the World Masters Championship: Interview with the ITTF Foundation team

Just 5 days left until the two players with Parkinson’s, Agnes Jan and Steve Morley, step on the stage of the ITTF World Masters Championships Rome 2024 representing the Foundation team to compete with over 6000 other athletes! To further promote this campaign championing Diversity and Inclusion, the ITTF Foundation recently conducted an inspiring interview session with Agnes and Steve, offering a deeper look into their courageous battles with Parkinson’s, their journey into table tennis, and their preparation for the upcoming tournament in Rome. Hosted by Ramón Ortega Montes, the Health Impact Manager of the ITTF Foundation, the conversation illuminated their personal stories, their encounter with table tennis, and their pride in representing the Foundation team. (Click here to support Agnes | Click here to support Steve)

Agnes and Steve’s life journey with Parkinson’s and table tennis

The interview began with Agnes, a 60-year-old retired teacher from Austria, and Steve, a 62-year-old retired town planner and economic development officer from Scotland, sharing their backgrounds and experiences. They recounted the profound impact Parkinson’s had on their lives.

When I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, I couldn’t walk. I was very unhappy because I couldn’t do any exercise,” Agnes shared, reflecting on her initial struggle with the diagnosis. Steve, who noticed his symptoms and was diagnosed in 2018, added, “I had some movement difficulties. I’m slower now, particularly in the morning. Sometimes I can walk absolutely fine. Other times I’m taking very small steps just to keep moving.

Despite the challenges posed by Parkinson’s, both Agnes and Steve found solace and improvement in their lives through table tennis.

After looking up the disease of Parkinson’s on the Internet, I found articles about table tennis. My husband founded a table tennis club 44 years ago in our village, so I thought I might try playing. Initially, I didn’t fit into any groups, so I trained with children to learn the techniques,” Agnes explained. She now plays three times a week at her local club and practices daily at home. “After medication and table tennis sessions, I can do all sports now. I can swim, walk, hike, and cycle…… If I play table tennis, the next day I can move very well. Other people wouldn’t realize that I have Parkinson’s.

Steve, who hadn’t played table tennis in 40 years, discovered its therapeutic benefits and now plays up to five times a week across various clubs, including in regular clubs and sessions for people with Parkinson's. Practising table tennis 5 times a week, Steve emphasises the importance of table tennis and exercise in managing his condition, “When I saw the research about the links between Parkinson’s and table tennis, I looked into whether there are local clubs……Elena, my partner, says if I don’t play for a few days, she notices my symptoms get worse. That’s my excuse for playing,” Steve joked.

 

Preparation for the World Masters Championships

Agnes and Steve were selected through a raffle at the World Parkinson’s Table Tennis Championships in Greece last year to represent the Foundation team at the World Masters Championship in Rome. The announcement brought immense joy and pride to both of them.

In preparation for the event, Agnes has intensified her training with the support of her coach. “I think there are always players. They are better than me, but I don't want to lose just because I haven't trained enough,” she said. Steve continues his rigorous practice sessions with increased self-motivation, aiming to play at his best, “It’s just a case of trying to get a better play as well as you can.

Both players are eager to showcase the therapeutic benefits of table tennis and raise awareness about Parkinson’s disease. They hope their participation will demonstrate that individuals with Parkinson’s can compete just as successfully as anyone else.

 

Messages of Hope and Resilience

As the interview concluded, Ramón asked Agnes and Steve to share their key messages for others battling Parkinson’s. “If you have a disease, like Parkinson’s, never give up and try to find a sport you enjoy,” Agnes advised. She highlighted how table tennis has brought joy and motivation into her life. “Joy is back in my life. I have goals. Now I’m working towards the World Championships, the ITTF World Parkinson’s Championships, the German Open, the Scottish Open, and the Church Mountain Open. I wasn’t used to travel much, but now we’re on the road almost every month.

Steve echoed her sentiments, stressing the need to find enjoyable exercise activities. “For me, table tennis is ideal because of the hand-eye coordination and reactions…...Sometimes when you get behind the table, you go on autopilot. You move better at a table tennis table because psychologically, you know you’ve got to play and make efforts to get to the ball. It’s been great.

 

Agnes and Steve's stories are a testament to the power of resilience and the transformative impact of sports like table tennis on the lives of those with Parkinson's disease. Their journey to the World Masters Championships is not just a personal achievement but a beacon of hope for many others facing health-related challenges.

As we approach the final days leading up to the event, we invite you to support and be a part of Agnes and Steve's inspiring journey!

Click here to support Agnes | Click here to support Steve

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