This is a unique story of a man from Egypt with no arms. He was invited as an honoured guest of the ITTF President Adham Sharara to visit and enjoy the ZEN-NOH 2014 World Team Table Tennis Championships in Tokyo, Japan.
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“Nothing is impossible” is the life mantra of Egypt’s arguably most ingenious para-athlete, Ibrahim Hamadtou. Seeing is believing, with Hamadtou undeniably in a league of his own. After losing his arms in a tragic train accident at ten years old, the Egyptian now plays table tennis by serving the ball through flicking it up with his foot, and playing with the bat held in his mouth.
“I was trying first to use the bat under the arm, and I also tried using other things that weren’t working so well,” says Hamadtou, who first began playing table tennis three years after his accident. “Finally, I tried using my mouth.”
Sadly, it was not only his disability that initially hindered him from achieving his goal of being a table tennis champion. He regularly faced skepticism by most people he came across.
“It was a big challenge for me, especially, when I found in the beginning people were thinking I wouldn’t be able to play good or be a competitor for other players, not just paralympians.”
A man not only of world-class athleticism but also of superlative perseverance, the surrounding pessimism just further motivated Hamadtou, silver medalist in the African Para Table Tennis Championships.
“(Their criticism) gave me the chance to practice more and more. I gave more time for practice and this made me feel confident to feel like this. I feel really happy playing table tennis.”
Maintaining a positive mind frame despite his devastating life tribulations, Hamadtou fittingly puts his greatest achievements in life in two sections; in life, and in table tennis.
“In achieving in life, the best thing is my marriage, my wife, which is a big blessing for me. The second is in table tennis. All matches I’ve won, it was a great achievement, especially when I got second in the African Para championships.”
When world number two Ma Long entered the training halls in Tokyo’s Yoyogi National Gymnasium during the ZEN-NOH 2014 World Team Table Tennis Championships, he did not expect to be leaving in disbelief.
“He played very good,” said Ma Long, who saw Hamadtou playing across the training hall, and insisted to play him and see his skills in action for himself. “I could not believe!”
Jun Mitzutani, Japan’s number one, also couldn’t resist joining in, saying, “he played really, really good. I can’t believe he plays with his mouth, I have never seen something like this before!”
Playing against Long and Mitzutani was Hamadtou’s biggest dream come true, and he can’t hide an exuberant smile as he describes how it felt playing with some of the sport’s best athletes.
“This is the biggest award for me to play with such talent in the table tennis world. The top player in Japan and the former world number one – I’m so happy about this. I feel like I am the king of table tennis in Egypt!”
To those whom superstar Hamadtou has surpassed, the unenlightened cynics, he has this to say:
“I want to tell them and tell everybody that nothing is impossible, and everybody should work hard for what you love and what you think is good for yourself.