First ever Aussie Paralympian to join an able-bodied team

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Born with Erb's Palsy, table tennis player Melissa Tapper is the first Australian Paralympic athlete to join an able-bodied Commonwealth Games team.

Winning a place on a Commonwealth Games team is hard enough. Imagine trying to do it with a disability.

That’s exactly what Melissa Tapper has done.

The 24-year-old, originally from Hamilton in Victoria’s regional west, is the first Australian Paralympic athlete to be selected for an able bodied team.

Having narrowly lost a play-off for a bronze medal at the London Paralympic Games, she’s about to pack her bags for Glasgow.

"I always thought it was possible. It's been my dream ever since I started playing, I always wanted to make a Commonwealth or Olympic games team," she says.

There’s no sentimentality involved at all here – she qualified automatically through the Commonwealth Games trials.

“Dad was there, and mum was on the phone not long after, in tears, so that sort of explains enough!"

Melissa was born with Erb’s Palsy. Damaged nerves in her shoulder, suffered during birth, have made her right arm much smaller and weaker than her left.

Not that you’d notice.

"Over the years I've just learnt to get on with it and it hasn't stopped me from doing anything I wanted to do."

What she wanted to do was play table tennis.

"Being a one-hand dominant sport, it took my fancy pretty quickly, and I was all right at it."

Apart from difficulty serving, constant back and shoulder injuries have made her task even tougher.

Her coach, Simon Gerada, says the physical demands on her have been far greater than the average able-bodied athlete.

"Anyone that's been in the hall here for the last five, six years, watching her practice and train, seeing her go through the ups and downs, would see that she hasn't taken the easy path at all."

But in typical, understated fashion, Melissa doesn't think she's done anything extraordinary.

“When I’m older, maybe I will look back and realise what I have done, but I'm just a kid playing ping pong and really enjoying it at the moment and looking to get the best out of myself," she says.

"I'm really just like anyone else."

Source SBS

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