Embracing our differences: the table tennis story

When I was 10 years old we had a teacher at our school called Mr Moornard (for anyone reading this that remembers him - ‘Discipline’!) He was an official at Wimbledon and got some of us into playing table tennis. We were ok (as long as there was a bit of practice) and I went to a National tournament somewhere near Warwick for U11 girls. This place was massive and it was everything table tennis under one roof if you can imagine it. I have a few memories of this day but my strongest is that my family and I were pretty much the only ones not wearing some kind of matching shell suit ensemble. If you are lucky enough to not know what a shell suit is then it’s a shiny kind of tracksuit usually in hideous colour combinations.

I remember this vividly as it’s one of my first times of sensing that somehow, I didn’t fit in and I was different to the other children there. I also remember thinking that that was ok - even to a 10 year old, I could see how some of the other parents were shouting at their daughters if they missed a point. To them, winning was the only important thing. My parents just thought it was a nice day out watching some ping pong (and secretly my mum wanted me to get knocked out early so we had time to go to Warwick castle on the way home!)

Being different is ok. In fact it's better than ok. I didn’t care that I wasn’t part of the gang with my clothes all wrong, I just wanted to play table tennis and have the excitement of being there. Diversity brings so many benefits to the table. Our differences, whether that be in our genetic make up or our ideas brings challenge, insight and different perspectives on issues and problems. The nuances and quirkiness in our characters certainly shouldn't be hidden. These are the things that make the world a more interesting place to be and you a more authentic and honest individual.

Mental Health awareness week which is taking place next week is focusing on body image and the impact of this on our mental health. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we all learnt to accept our differences and focused on the person on the inside rather than the outside? Our body is our home complete with wonky corners and sometimes crumbling walls. It is where we live however and this should be respected and valued.

My strongest memory of this day? Ultimately the love that I have/had for my parents and the fact that they embraced my differences for this is what makes me me and not someone else in a shiny matching shell suit. I still joke with my mum about the shell suits. I didn’t get very far in the tournament and we did see Warwick castle.

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