Recent gold medallist at the Parkinson’s UK Table Tennis Nationals, Jan Fuller, shared with us her preparations for the competition. Jan lives with Parkinson’s Disease and wants to share her experiences of the joys and challenges of playing table tennis with the hope to inspire more people with the condition to give the game a go.
4th August 2022
Well, I would like to say that for the last few months, I have been totally table tennis focused, eating well, gradually increasing my fitness and stamina levels and increasing my step count, and that here I am, as fit and ready as I am ever going to be for the Parkinsons UK Nationals in Scotland happening in 3 days’ time. However, if I told you all that, it would be a lie!
You see, my life has been rather complicated and busy since February, so playing in the UK Nationals wasn’t really on my radar. Why? Well, I moved from Essex to Norfolk in June 2021 with my partner but unfortunately my personal circumstances changed and my relationship deteriorated.
Aside from the usual pain a broken relationship brings, it also worsened my Parkinson’s symptoms, which in themselves determined I couldn’t play even if I wanted to, because the Dystonic spasms (uncontrolled and sometimes painful muscle movements) I endured rendered me unable to walk.
So, I kept a low profile, and didn’t play much table tennis because I found it too stressful and didn’t want the anxiety that I was caused every time I tried to play the game. So, I didn’t play.
Nevertheless, me being me and not one to sit and feel sorry for myself, by June I was playing again.
I had however, in the usual ‘get yourself out and stop feeling sorry for yourself’ mode post relationship breakdown, started playing lawn bowls and let’s be frank, when you can spend a couple of hours in the fresh air and sunshine, playing bowls on a rink overlooking the sea, who wants to be couped up in a sports hall, sweating profusely, red in the face and trying to remember what a Falkenburg is!
…it turned out, I did!
I have to say, that even so in its own way, playing lawn bowls was still preparation because it was exercise and I would often do 7,500 steps, chasing that little white jack. The club I joined also had an enormous amount of fantastic, enthusiastic, and motivated female players and I learnt a lot from them in terms of technique and their great attitude to playing the game. They were competitive, but fair and many were better than the men who played. Yet no one was thought any less of, no one thought they were superior to anyone else and they to a last woman (and man) welcomed me, a total beginner with open arms. They motivated, supported and boosted me when I needed boosting and that’s the feeling and inspiration, I want to pass on to all women and girls in table tennis. Thank you ladies. I will be back, but the table tennis has had to take priority for the last 2 weeks.
When I got the fantastic news that Table Tennis England would support me going to the Nationals in the middle of July, my mind became focused. Firstly, as I have Parkinsons, it’s the practicalities I must take care of first, not how much practice can I get in. Otherwise, I become anxious and preoccupied and can’t concentrate.
“I have Parkinson’s” – what does that really mean? Well, it’s hard to describe what that means specifically to me and how it affects me, as no two people with Parkinson’s are the same. I wrote a poem which may give you a glimpse into my world rather than me try to explain it. It is at the end of this blog.
For me, getting there would be a challenge – I needed a travel buddy. Luckily for me I belong to a fantastic table tennis club – Norwich City Table Tennis Club, run by Stuart Laws, who is also a Level 3 Head coach, fellow team-mate and friend. I asked him to be my buddy (subject to his wife’s approval of course) for the tournament, he didn’t hesitate to offer his assistance. Phew, one less thing to worry about.
Then I had to start thinking about accommodation, flights, parking etc. I did some sorting out, and also did some panicking. Stu took over and did some, and between us and Table Tennis England we got sorted.
Now I could concentrate on the table tennis.
So finally, some practice and some preparation, but by now I had not played for about 3 weeks. With my type of game, the more I play the better I play, having a break is not usually good for me.
It was with some trepidation, but excitement therefore, that Stu and I played in the Great Yarmouth summer league on Friday 29th July at Broadlands in Fleggburgh (Norfolk).
Our team’s name is – The Minions, Stu is well…. Stu, and I am ‘whatever’. We wore cotton yellow Minion T shirts, and it was 28 degrees in the hall! But we raised a smile or two.
To my surprise, I played surprisingly well, and contributed to our winning the match 3-2.
Saturday 30th July – there was a Parkinsons training session in Rowhedge in Essex, to help prepare some of my PD (Parkinson’s Disease) friends, who are also going to the UK Nationals. The coaches John Andrews, Rik James and Roger Hance have been running a monthly PD TT session for about a year now, it was a long drive from Norfolk, but I went.
I spent 2 hours being put through a tough training session of drills and exercises and YES… I did the Falkenburg! Encouraged by coach and old friend, from my ‘Essex girl’ days, Rik James. Rik is an excellent coach and was patient, kind and funny. Thanks Rik for taking me through my paces, I really enjoyed it.
John and Roger worked with my other PD friends (and soon to be opposition), and we all had a great session.
John Andrews said afterwards:
“Rowhedge Table Tennis Club are proud to have played a part in the development of Parkinson’s TT in the UK. We are looking to start a bat and chat session in September/October. We continue to work with Table Tennis England and Parkinson’s UK to promote the benefits of table tennis. Most of all through we just enjoy meeting and working with people such as Andy, Gary, Jan, Ed and Hossain who we met for the first-time last Saturday 30/7. We can see the progress they are making developing their TT skills and we will do all we can to help and support. Good luck in Glasgow.”
Sunday 31st July – Dad and I ran the Parkinson’s table tennis support group that we run for People with Parkinson’s and their partners once a month. Dad also has Parkinson’s and at the age of 85 years still plays a mean game of table tennis and runs a table tennis club. He is my inspiration and support always.
We had a good session and I played and coached a bit. It was very hot and we all needed to have plenty of breaks.
Monday 1st August – I am knackered and can’t get up the strength or motivation to go to Norwich City training night tonight. I feel bad not going to support and help Stuart, but my tremors are bad, and my feet are in spasm. My body is saying TOO MUCH JAN, so I must go with it and text Stu that I can’t make it. He is as always non-judgmental and reassuring, making me feel a little better about it.
As I couldn’t actually play table tennis my coach suggested I try this and sent me this, he said:
if you cannot train physically have a go at Visualisation training:
It is as simple as it sounds . . . imagining yourself in situations and what you would do, so when in the actual situation, you have already done it, so you believe you can do it and it comes more naturally, you react as you did in your visualisation session.
This can be from stepping on the court, imagining the environment, noise, crowd, smells to playing the games themselves.
Think of how you will serve, and imagine playing the point out, go through every possible return to that serve and your 3rd ball attack . . . same with return of serves.
Think about your body position, your stroke, the sound the ball will make on the bat, the feel of it. As much info as you can. Take your time to build the picture.
You can even shadow play the shots, in front of a mirror.
And at the end of each session imagine the elation of the win, the crowd cheering, shaking hands with your opponent, to receiving the medal!
It can be hard to get to a table for many reasons . . . so it’s a way of using our time to practise when we can’t get to practice!
Have a go!
I tried it and it felt good, until I could get to a table again.
I tried it, he was right . . .
This is the rest of the week really, PD not good, so prep and training are halted as my body recovers from – doing too much. This disease is so frustrating.
Thursday 4th August – at last feeling better so off to play summer league at Norwich City table tennis club tonight, this will be my final practice pre-UK Nationals at the weekend.
I am afraid I’m not a perfect player, with perfect prep and I haven’t made the perfect plan for getting ready for the weekend. It’s been hectic, muddily and very busy, but I can honestly say that I have done the best I can, with what I have, in the time I have had, Parkinson’s allowing. I am not stressed and that’s good enough for me!
I am looking forward to it very much and irrespective of what prep I have or haven’t done; I will do my very best to win. However, I will also look to enjoy spending time with my fellow PD friends and being part of something special.
With a new interest in women and girls’ table tennis, I will also be asking the ladies of the group about their table tennis journeys and what their prep was like.
Wonder if it will be as ‘good’ as mine . . .
What is Parkinsons to me?
Shaking legs, shuffling feet
Tripping over, cannot sleep
Painful spasms, twisted knees
Cracking joints, urgent gotta pee.
Quiet voice, stiff arms too
Anxiety, tears, feeling blue
Slow movements, fuzzy head
Freezing footsteps, night sweats in bed.
Extreme fatigue, painful limbs
Memory loss, dropping things
Loss of taste, loss of smell
Involuntary jerking, living hell.
Getting worse, self-image breeched
Difficult to function, stuttering speech
Regular medication, dose increased
Shorter ‘on’ time, job deceased.
Grief and sadness, feeling down
Fighting daily, try not to drown
Keep independence, aim and achieve
Try to look forward, be positive, believe.
Changed by PD, my life too soon
Now forced to dance to the PD tune
Outings ruined; relationships lost
Partners struggle, warmth turned to frost.
But it is what it is, I still have so much to give
Yes, PD gives me issues, but a life I still live
I play table tennis, a World Champion that’s me
I have sunshine, the garden and live by the sea.
Each day is a new start and forward I go
Even though I still suffer from ‘hitch hikers’ toe’!
There is still much to enjoy, with family and friends
I am not finished yet PD, this isn’t the end.
By Jan Fuller