One of the world’s most successful differently-abled paddlers, Natalia Partyka, feels she is as normal as anybody. She also makes it clear that she is not inferior to anyone, especially those with whom she competes on the other side of the table.
Born without a right hand and forearm, Natalia has participated in five consecutive Paralympics from the 2000 Sydney Olympics, and won four gold medals in singles and has taken part in three Olympics since 2008 Beijing.
It is no easy feat, for it requires diligent practice, focus and drive to compete in both the para-games and normal events. “I am lucky,” the 27-year-old Natalia, says with a disarming smile. “to be doing what I love… My coaches and friends have helped me (along the way).”
Natalia credits her parents for what she is today. “I was born (like this). It would have been difficult for them (my parents) too. What they taught me holds good even today. As a kid, I learnt to tie my own shoelaces, and now thanks to them, I handle (almost) everything on my own.”
In Chennai for the Ceat-Ultimate Table Tennis League as a reserve player, Natalia is determined to play, and she is hoping to get a chance soon. “I want to play but at the same time I don’t want anybody to get injured. I hope I get a chance,” she says.
The League, feels Natalia, is not just good for the Indians, but for other players too. “It is a great idea. TT needs this. The Indians are improving. Now it is not easy to beat them,” she says.
She has won pretty much everything in world para table tennis from four gold medals in singles in four consecutive Olympics and multiple world championship titles and quite a few European championship medals. “I have won titles in para events 2-3 times,” she says.
The Pole’s best performance was when she reached the quarterfinals of the ITTF World Tour Qatar Open in February this year, beating quite a few higher-ranked players — including China’s Wu Yang, the Korea Republic’s Yang Haeun and Germany's Shan Xiaona — on her way to finish in the last eight in Doha. “I can still do a lot better,” she insists.
The inspiration to keep improving, Natalia says, she gets from competing in para events. “Every event I play, I see a lot of differently-abled athletes, and get motivated by their stories. Disability is nothing. They enjoy their life, showing us that our problems are very small.”
Currently playing in the Czech League, Natalia, ranked 65 in the world, is eager to compete in the 2020 Tokyo Games and reach the top 40 in the next couple of years. “Hopefully I can qualify in 2020 in both paralympics and Olympics,” she says.