Canadian National Para Athlete Peter Isherwood took the time to share his Table Tennis story with us. From the beginning in the basement, to the Para Pan American Games and of course what ever the future might bring.
I would say the first time I really held a Table Tennis racket was about 5 years ago. That said I have in some fashion hit a ball with friends or family since I was a kid. As I am sure you have heard it before, we had a table growing up. In my case my Aunt and Uncle had one but I realized there is a big difference between growing up with a table and truly learning the game.
What ultimately happened is an invitation to play with some other para players at a regular game twice a week where I was being destroyed and it ignited my competitive spirit. I subscribed to some online coaching channels, started studying wheelchair matches on youtube and ultimately getting very excited about the sport. I purchased an ipong Table Tennis robot, got my hands on a table and started practicing a lot. The group I played with decided to attend nationals in Markham and after some discussions with John Macpherson, we made our way. I did not fare so well, it was humbling to say the least.
Fast forward to today and many many hours with a racket in hand and in 2019 I was able to represent Canada at the Para Pan American Games in Lima as a class 2 player where I finished 5th. That experience has made me really want to strive for the ultimate tournament, the Paralympics in 2024.
I have been involved with Wheelchair Rugby since I left the rehab hospital in 2011 following my spinal cord injury. I also competed in seated throws (discus) for a few years which is strangely similar to the forehand stroke in Table Tennis. I competed in both sports at a provincial level. I no longer compete in discus but am still involved with rugby. The wheelchair rugby community is something very difficult to replace, I found a lot of support and guidance both on and off the court with regard to spinal cord injury from teammates and made some very good friends. As a result of reaching the next gen level in rugby and the skills I developed there I was able to focus and put the time in to reach this point in Table Tennis.
I have been lucky to work with some great coaches in AdamFrost (rugby) Lisa Myers and Ken Hall (Athletics) who taught me what it takes to succeed. Unfortunately, Rugby has been put on hold since the start of Covid-19 but I have been able to practice Table Tennis
I am currently training at the Northshore Table Tennis Club with my coach Luba Sadovska. I am lucky to be able to continue practicing and working with Luba regularly as I know that is not the case across the country. I am mostly sparing with able-body club players and sometimes with Ryan Schweizer a class 1 player out of Vancouver. We did have a decent group of para players of different classifications playing (unofficial) with a couple showing significant improvement and interest but unfortunately Covid put the breaks on that. I am hoping to start that again soon but with numbers increasing and restrictions following close behind i’m not optimistic.
The members at North Shore Table Tennis have been great to train with and very supportive of my goals and Luba is amazing. She has really taken on the challenge of learning the differences in the para game and shows her passion and commitment with every practice we have.
Table Tennis is an amazing sport that does not get the recognition it deserves in North America. The speed, the spin and the focus required are unlike many sports. Having to deal with spin from a few shots past that could send the ball flying off the table requires constant attention while the speed with which the ball comes back requires precision timing and quick reflexes. It also fits well with the gear junkie when trying to find the right blade and rubber combination to suit your game.
One thing I forgot to mention that the pandemic changed for me is our dining room furniture. This is where I should give a shout out to my wonderful wife TJ. Living in Vancouver does not coincide with large living spaces for most so my wife agreeing to replace our dining room table with a Table Tennis table needs to be acknowledged. She is definitely my biggest supporter and puts up with a lot, including collecting the balls I can’t reach when she gets home from work. I am definitely thankful to have a place to practice and a partner always available to practice, that would be my robot not my wife!
I am not totally sure what is next, definitely looking forward to a return to competition. I have recently joined some other great athletes on the athletes commission for Table Tennis Canada where I look forward to sharing ideas and maybe we can help to grow an amazing sport. All in all, my plan is to continue working hard and hopefully reach those lofty goals.