There comes a time in every man’s life when he reaches a crossroads. A time when he must decide who he is: if he is a peasant or a king, a novice or a master, a commoner or a champion.
When I came to school for my first day of senior year, I saw a ping-pong table situated near the quad by Chalmers.
It was then I knew I was destined to be a champion.
There is a yearning in all of us to transcend our humble origins, a thirst for greatness, a longing to become a god among men. But often, that dream of success seems distant and unattainable.
The road to greatness is not an easy one. It is a path strewn with thorns and pitfalls. On my journey to greatness, I suffered many a loss to a lesser man. I crumbled many times before weaker foes. But every time I failed, I also learned. The wooden paddle, once awkward in my palm, became familiar and comfortable. The ball that once evaded me came to fear me.
They said I could never become a champion – because I was new to the game, a young hotshot with bold dreams and ambitions. They said I could never beat the ping-pong establishment. They said I would never amount to anything more than an amateur with a love for the sport.
They were wrong.
Ping-pong is a sport misunderstood by most. Many players try to ace their opponents with flashy serves. Others risk everything for impressive outplays. Some focus on spinning the ball into unexpected trajectories. However, ping-pong is not a game of force or flash. It is not a sport of brute strength or power. It is a test of finesse and skill, of patience and consistency.
The true champion is not the one who gets the most aces, the sickest outplays, or the fanciest spin. The true champion is the one who gets the most points; the one who can return anything, in any conditions, on any terrain; the one who does not just see the ball but understands it, who does not just wield the paddle but is one with it.
I am that champion.
One by one, members of the ping-pong establishment crumbled before me. I have made many a friend at the ping-pong table, and many an enemy. Bonds were formed and broken. Lesser players have come to both love and fear me; greater champions see their throne contested.
There is no better feeling than standing at the table, sweat dripping down my back, my shirt moist with greatness. The paddle is wrapped warmly in my loving grip. The orange ball arcs over the table gracefully; I carry a couple spares in the left pocket of my cargo shorts. At this table, I have known how it feels to be at the edge of victory or at the brink of defeat. I have won matches to the drumbeat of my pounding heart and the thud of the paddle against the ball. I have learned the manifesto of the table tennis master: integrity, dedication, and above all, a passion for the sport.
This is the table where boys become men. This is that region of space where stars are formed. This is the womb of greatness from whence gods are born.
At the table of justice, the voiceless are given a voice. All pretenses of race or ranking or inequality are left behind. Champions battle as equals. Men are judged not by the color of their skin but by the quality of their play.
All around the world, politicians and activists puzzle over how to achieve equality, how to conquer prejudice, how to stop racism and hatred. But the answer to equality is not written in books or locked in the minds of scholars. It is at the ping-pong table, in the creed of the sport and heart of the champion.
For me, there are still players left to defeat. But a year since I first embarked on my difficult journey, I am still just as thirsty for the win.
So for now, the champion fights on.