Today marked the completion of the eightieth of my hundred Time to Change challenges to raise mental health awareness.
This morning was, in a sense, a bit of a trip down memory lane as it involved table tennis; a game I always enjoyed at school, but which (until last month) I hadn’t played for over thirty years.
The actual challenge was “to play table tennis against an England international”, and I am indebted to Alan Ransome of Ormesby Table Tennis Club for arranging a game against three-time Commonwealth medallist Danny Reed. I must also mention Malcolm Muldoon, who has given me plenty of advice and encouragement during the three practice sessions I had in the lead up to the “big day”.
I have to admit that I had really enjoyed those sessions—so much so that I fully intend to go back again even though the challenge has been completed. Obviously, I have lost a lot of the speed and movement that I never had in the first place, and I now possess badly won hips and a left shoulder joint that can click to order, but despite the physical constraints, it’s amazing how quickly the competitive edge returns—and how much you realise you’d missed it.
Danny won silver medals in the men’s team competition in both Delhi and Glasgow, and he also claimed bronze in the 2014 mixed doubles with Kelly Sibley—and he’s only just over half my age, so the outcome of the game was always going to come under the heading of “foregone conclusion”. But it’s not the result that’s important; it’s the fact that an elite athlete I hadn’t previously met was prepared to help me fulfil a challenge. Translate that to mental health, and hopefully you can see why I’ve chosen to share my own experiences and why I will keep trying to push myself….
Back at Ormesby Table Tennis Club, I had the chance to have a quick chat with Danny before we knocked up—I believe that is the technical term. I will admit to feeling quite nervous beforehand, but a reasonable number of shots found the table on Danny’s side of the net, and soon it was game time. The table was set up for the upcoming British League Premier Division clash between Ormesby and Cardiff City; there was a scoreboard and even a scorer… and things started well when I won the toss to serve first.
I should probably have quit while I was ahead….
My aims were not to embarrass myself, and maybe play a shot good enough to win a point. At 10-0 in the opener, neither goal had been achieved, but I did win the next point—mainly because Danny deliberately put a bit more air on a return to give me the chance of hitting a blistering forehand. Well it was a forehand….
What felt like moments later, Danny was 10-1 up in the second game too. That became 10-2 after my best point of the match (yes, I know there weren’t many to choose from). Danny’s one and only false shot took the score to 10-3; and to be honest, he was on the ropes at that point—even though I don’t think he realised.
The match was officially best of five, which translates as “how long will I last before losing 3-0”. The answer was not much longer, and it did start to look like my side of the scoreboard was broken because the number never seemed to change.
On match point, I contrived to top edge a smash into the roof, and that was that: a straight sets defeat 11-1, 11-3, 11-1 to one of the best players in the country.
Danny’s speed of thought and movement were superb; his forehand smashes were lightning quick, and I hadn’t a clue what to do with his serves; but it was a great experience. I’ve been lucky enough to have faced several top-class athletes from a number of different sports, and this was another hugely rewarding challenge. I hope Danny enjoyed the game; he seems a genuinely nice bloke, and it was a pleasure to spend some time in his company.
Over the next three months, I’ll hopefully be visiting my first school, recording a song (anything Ed Sheeran can do…), and then in June it’ll be time for my “road trip” to a football ground from all four home nations in a day. For now though, I just want to say a big thank you to Danny and to Ormesby Table Tennis Club; and confirm that contrary to popular belief there are in fact three certainties in life….
Death, taxes—and me not returning a Danny Reed serve.