For Hungary's Alexa Szvitacs, Para table tennis had given her hope that she could still compete in her sport at a high level.
The 29-year-old, a familiar face on the ITTF circuit for many years, started playing table tennis at international level when she was 12, and represented her country at the ITTF World Junior Championships.
But last summer, she was affected by an illness that resulted in life-threatening complications, and the loss of her left forearm and parts of both feet.
Competing at only her second Para table tennis competition, the 2019 European Championships in September in Helsingbord, Sweden; she won gold in the women's singles class 9 category and a coveted qualifying spot at the Paralympic Games in Tokyo next year.
“When I got sick...and the doctors have told me that I’m going to have an amputation, I was already calming my parents by saying I’m going to be a Paralympic champion,” she said. “Qualification was a big step towards my dream. It’s unbelievable that I have already qualified... a year ago I was learning how to walk again.”
Szvitacs has been following a thorough training schedule in preparation for her return to competition.
“I started training again four months ago and by now I have eight practices a week,” she explained. “Besides table tennis practices, I have strength training, multi ball training, and a separate practice for serving as well since serving has changed for me.”
She draws her inspiration from “my family and friends, and players like me who started competing with able bodies and became Para athletes.”
She hopes to inspire other young Para athletes through her achievements in the sport.
“In the hospital, doctors told me that I might live today because of the sport and my persistence,” she revealed. “I really encourage the young people to do sports, find a sport that they like and can become successful in, and it will help their life to become whole. Who knows, one day it might save their lives.”
Although Szvitacs has been representing her country from junior level, competing for Hungary has taken on a new meaning in the past year.
“A lot of people have helped me in the past in Hungary, people whom I don’t know personally, and I feel like I was able to give back some by giving them the national anthem of Hungary and European Championships.”
Although she made Paralympic qualification look straightforward with her victory at the European Championships, she is keen to emphasise how much hard work goes on behind the scenes.
“Right now I feel like I am in heaven,” Szvitacs said. “We have been working and are working a lot to become successful and make my dream a reality. It might look easy from the outside but it’s not, since I live with pain to this day... I’m incredibly happy but as always I am focused on the next competition.”