Commonwealth TT C’ship: Disability no bar for Melissa Tapper

The Australian, born with brachial plexus, plays in para games as well as able-bodied tournaments. There are advantages in playing both, she says.

Australia’s M. Tapper in action during the league round of the Commonwealth Table Tennis Championship.   -  Biswaranjan Rout

Despite the rich tradition of Olympics and Paralympics, only 15 athletes have represented their respective countries in both the quadrennial extravaganzas. One of those 15 — Australia’s ever-smiling paddler Melissa Tapper — competed in the 21st Commonwealth Table Tennis Championship here over the last week.

She may not have been able to win a medal but Tapper was one of the most sought-after athletes by Oriyas during the tournament.

Born with brachial plexus — which means the nerves between her right neck and shoulder were torn apart — Tapper is used to getting attention whenever she competes in able-bodied tournaments. While the left-handed paddler admits that at times she has been discouraged from participating in able-bodied tournaments, she explains the advantages of participating in both.

'Benefit from playing in both'

“Occasionally, people have come and told me to focus on para games but I benefit from playing in both. My class in para is the least amount of disability,” Tapper says. “Playing in able-bodied competitions, I keep getting better in my game, while playing in para-competitions helps in reaching finals and gaining confidence, which translates during able-bodied competitions. I need to be smart in choosing which to play and when.”

So has she ever been sledged for the physical challenge by any of her competitors on the international circuit?

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“Most athletes don’t treat me differently, at least not to my face,” she says with a smile, and adds, “They understand I’m here on my own merit and have come here to play and compete. It is difficult to serve (with her right-arm being much shorter than the left). I have tried to practice and make it as close to legal one as possible. Nobody has objected, maybe an umpire but not players.”

The 'driving force'

Besides playing table tennis, Tapper works as an exercise expert and occasionally dons the hat of a motivational speaker. But whenever she feels let down by her performance in the arena, she turns to husband Simon Gerada, himself an Olympian table tennis player.

“It’s [a] very big help to have your partner in the same sport. He came up through the ranks, is an Olympian and has represented the country in the Commonwealth Games. He understands what I’m feeling, what I go through, big part in helping me grow as an athlete, tries to motivate me and helps me find solutions. He is the driving force in helping me achieve my goals.”