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How Perry became Scotland's best para-table tennis player

How Perry became Scotland's best para-table tennis player
How Perry became Scotland's best para-table tennis player

 


But Rio 2016 came too soon and after a crowdfunding campaign he fell two wins short of a place in Tokyo 2020.

Every time I go to a school they introduce me as: Paralympian Martin Perry and I tell them don't give me that title, I haven't earned it. Perry said.

Some of the best athletes in the world never become Olympians or Paralympians. You have to earn it, it is a unique club to be part of.

It took time to wash away the trauma of coming so close to Tokyo. In 2019, Perry financed his way to events in Italy, Spain, Poland, Mexico, Thailand, Finland and China to try to qualify.

When the time came at the World Qualifying Tournament in June 2021, he was defeated by Kazuki Schichino from Japan in a very exciting match.

That was tough, that was heartbreaking, he remembers. I knew my level was good enough, but it came down to a lack of consistency.

I started winning all these medals internationally, but in the early stages of my career I was my own worst enemy. I would beat a player in the top 10 in the world and then lose to someone lower in the rankings.

All that hard work would be undone in the next match. Consistency in your performance simply comes from within; it's not something you can reproduce in the training hall.

Now the 30-year-old is already preparing to log into his social media channels on August 28 and add the letters PLY after his name.

That's because Perry has put his participation in Paris beyond doubt thanks to a brilliant run of performances in recent years, soaring with less than 100 days to go until the Games.

He has risen to eighth in the world, winning bronze at the 2022 World Championships and a medal of the same color at European level the following year. Perry has uncorked a steady stream of that elixir – consistency – to claim another bronze medal at the Polish Open in April, effectively securing a place at the ParalympicsGB.

Perry's young family has provided the perspective needed to risk it all.

“I made sure I had the right processes in place,” Perry said. I have the right people around me and I have always had the unwavering belief that it would click.

My wife Siobhain helped me a lot with the pick-up after I failed to qualify for Tokyo. One day I realized I was beating myself up so much over a ball flying over a net when, no matter what, I came home every night to see my wife and now my daughter Beira.

I sat back and analyzed my life and realized that even if I started playing table tennis, I still have a damn good life.

Until then, it was mainly table tennis that defined me. I realized that I have a great position in life and that playing table tennis is a privilege, a job, but ultimately just a bit of fun.

Suddenly I just felt this relief and the shackles were off. I've been on a huge upward trajectory since then and it all stems from what I thought was my worst day in the sport.

Perry has always felt most at home playing table tennis.

He was born with congenital loss and deformity of limbs, causing him to be born without hands and with only one leg. The youngest of three brothers, he was the first member of his family to become disabled.

It was definitely a shock to the system for my family, said Perry, who was born in Dumbarton.

To be honest, they accepted it incredibly well.

They never gave in or treated me differently. In any case, my brothers used it to their advantage: we were playing football and they would say: Martin, you have no hands, you score goals!

For lack of a better expression, they didn't care. I was never wrapped in cotton wool or hidden from the world, they just let me get on with it and that has definitely shaped who I am today.

It has taught me to be incredibly independent and I am so grateful for that because without it my life could have been very different.

Perry also had a positive experience with disability integration into school sport and in recent years took up table tennis at Gleniffer High School in Paisley, where he also tried basketball and rugby.

Much of Perry's time at the University of the West of Scotland was spent honing his craft on the table tennis table. The decision to put his studies on hold paid off when he received a call between lectures from Britain's Para Table Tennis inviting him to join their program in Sheffield.

Nowadays Perry trains five days a week at Drumchapel Table Tennis Club, supplemented with three days of gym and strength and conditioning work.

He is now one of more than 1,000 elite athletes who are part of the UK Sports National Lottery-funded World Class Programme, which allows him to train full-time, have access to the best coaches in the world and benefit from pioneering medical support.

Nowhere do the London 2012s inspire a generation more than in the stories of people like Perry, who now saw British teammate Ross Wilson win a medal.

I was fascinated, completely blown away, he remembers. I knew this was what I wanted to do with my life.

Perry believes London 2012 has left a legacy for disabled people in Britain.

“I have the privilege of traveling the world playing table tennis and I really think Britain is one of the best countries in the world when it comes to accommodating people with disabilities,” he says.

Even in the furthest corners of the world they are trying to provide housing, but what we do very well in Britain is we enforce it. Try opening a building without an accessible toilet today – you won't succeed.

I'm proud that we are encouraging inclusion to the extent that we are and I think that comes from the Games – legislation that was introduced around 2012 and since to ensure that continues to happen.

Recently, when the Minister for Disability Affairs was fired, I thought: come on, we can't let this go, because if we are one of the leading forces in the world, we don't want to lose all that progress.

Another topic Perry is passionate about is sustainability. Having witnessed the impact of climate change on his travels around the world, he uses his platform to raise awareness about environmental issues and is a sports ambassador for Prevented Ocean Plastic.

When I started competing in Japan, I realized that it is possible to be clean and beautiful anywhere, Perry said. It was such an eye-opener that there is so much waste and junk in the world that is left behind because someone else deals with it.

It ruins almost everything we have – it ruins the air, the land, the water and even our food chains.

It's something I'm even more aware of now that I'm a father. In every way, I want to give my daughter the best possible opportunities in life and one of those things is that she has an environment to live in.

That doesn't mean I'm perfect, but we all have to start somewhere and that's something I'm very aware of.

Perry is desperate to add a Paralympic medal to his list of honors this summer, but his new perspective means he's still a long way off.

“I play table tennis because I absolutely love it,” Perry said. It's so much fun for me and it's what I've wanted to do for more than half my life now. I can not get enough of it.

The joy of having Siobhain and Beira is that whatever emotion I feel about table tennis – whether good or bad – it is always better to have them.

Of course the medal is important, but it is also important for the other fifteen players competing for it. It would be idiotic for me to say it's more important to me than it is to them.

I'll give everything I have to try to win it. But to call myself a Paralympian, no matter what, no one will be able to take that away from me.

National Lottery players raise more than $30 million every week for good causes, including vital funding for sport from grassroots to elite. For more information visit:www.lotterygoodcauses.org.uk#TNLAthletes

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