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Article - Melissa Tapper - How a town rallied behind me!



'I understand that it’s a special achievement to be the only Australian to have competed at the Olympics and Paralympics. But, to me, it’s always been about just being the best I can be, whether that’s against para athletes or able-bods.

There are a couple of reasons I think that way. Most of my time competing in table tennis has been against players who don’t have a disability. All through my junior years, right up to Olympic and Comm Games qualification events, I was just a table tennis player, not a para athlete. In fact, it wasn’t until I was 19 that I was introduced to para sport.

The other main reason is because I’d never really thought of myself as having a disability. I’d grown up always being treated the same as everybody else. When I did finally discover I had an opportunity to play para table tennis, it took a while to get my head around it. I was apprehensive because I’d never looked at myself that way.

That might sound a bit weird, given my condition, which I’ve had since I was born. During natural childbirth I became stuck and was pulled out by the right arm. It completely tore the nerves between my neck and shoulder. When I was growing up I was told it was called brachial plexus, but since I’ve been playing para sport, I’ve heard the term Erbs palsy. Either or, I think!

For the first four months of my life I had no use of my right arm. Then I had nerves taken from the back of my calf muscles and joined to the broken nerves in my shoulder, which gave me back some movement. I have limited use of my shoulder nowadays, though my right arm hasn’t developed and has much less strength than my left arm. I have no use of my wrist.

The thing is, when you’re born with a disability, you tend to work around it. You innovate and compensate to make sure you can still get things done. I wear a custom-made brace, which gives me some wrist strength and helps me use my arm. I can do pretty much everything. And, if I can’t do something, even though it might take a bit longer or look a bit different, I’ll find a way to do it.'

Last modified onTuesday, 30 April 2019 17:08
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