Spotlight On... Para Table Tennis

Lee York

It’s a Paralympic summer, but don’t just watch the sports, try them!  

Parasport's Spotlight On… series offers a quick glimpse into the world of a Paralympic sport –the thoughts, feelings, emotions and behind the scenes details that may be hidden to the outside world. 

In the next part of the series, we spoke to Lee York, who took up wheelchair table tennis following an accident at work in 2017.

ParalympicsGB’s table tennis stars enjoyed a memorable time in Tokyo, with seven medals won.

Lee hopes to be part of the squad which heads to Paris in three years - he told us about his journey into the sport and why he thinks it’s a great one to get involved with at all levels.

Tell us about how you got into table tennis and your progression to where you are today 

“I had a major accident in May 2017 where I fell 30 feet from the deck of a container ship and broke my back. On the spinal ward at Pinderfields Hospital, they used to have a games day on a Wednesday where they’d have table tennis, boccia, shooting – all sorts. One of the guys there played wheelchair table tennis and spotted I had some ability, so got in touch with [British Para Table Tennis] pathway manager Shaun Marples.

“When I had the accident, I was thinking ‘what do I do now?’ ‘Where does my life go now?’. It was a worrying time. So when Shaun came in to see me, it showed me people still believed in me and it gave me a goal to achieve. I came out of hospital in the September and Shaun got in touch with me in the January to check I was still interested, which I 100 per cent was.

“I had carried on playing in the meantime - it prevented me from getting too down and gave me something to get up for. I had the occasional time where I’d be sat at home thinking about what I couldn’t do any more but the table tennis stopped me thinking that. It has given me goals along the way – to start with it was to play a good forehand, then became winning matches and now it’s qualifying for Paris [2024 Paralympics]. It has given me a purpose.”

Why table tennis over other sports? 

“It was love at first sight! Before the accident, I’d played mucking about with my friends but never really properly. As soon as I played a bit more, I realised there is far more to table tennis than putting the ball over the net. It really intrigued me and I loved it.

“I had been to the spinal games at Stoke Mandeville and tried loads of sports, and I just got this feeling for table tennis. Everyone I met was so friendly and helpful, they make you feel part of a family from day one. It ticked a lot of boxes for me.

“It is also a sport I could play for a long time. You can compete for many years and at 32, that was important to me. I’m very driven and always want to reach the best level I can.

What’s the one thing you now know, that you wish you’d known before getting started in the sport? 

“You can get thrown in at the deep end a bit! You might go from playing someone who’s right at the beginning of their journey to playing someone like Jack [Hunter Spivey], who is world number eight – though of course you can play socially and for fun as well.

“It also means you can learn very quickly from playing against some really talented players. The great thing about this sport is everyone encourages you. If you have any questions at all, people are so approachable and more than happy to help. It’s such a friendly atmosphere. Jack, as world number eight, takes time between his training sessions to help me on my serve. The people are unbelievable.”

What’s been your favourite memory in the sport so far? 

“Going away and competing. It might sound crazy but my favourite memory is my first international in Barcelona in 2018, playing against a French player who was about 12th in the world and absolutely obliterated me! But for me, that showed me the level I needed to get to. I needed that to happen to show me the work I had to put in and hit the goals I want to achieve.”

What’s something only a table tennis player would know or appreciate? 

“The game. What I mean by that is that a lot of people watch table tennis on TV, see Will [Bayley] do what he’s done and think ‘I could do that’. But you don’t appreciate how good these players are until you see them up close or play against them. It’s like high-speed chess. The game itself is so underestimated in terms of how hard it is at the top level. Table tennis is also a very accessible sport which can be played by people with a wide range of disabilities, which is great.”

What would you say to someone considering trying table tennis? 

“Enjoy it and embrace it. I can’t stress enough how family-orientated and welcoming the environment is. There is no pressure to get somewhere quickly and the people are so helpful.”

Gain an insight into the world of other Paralympic sports by visiting our Spotlight On… series hub page here.

Want to give para table tennis a try? Check out our club finder!