Hamilton Paralympian table tennis player Melissa Tapper will compete as an able-bodied player at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games. Picture: THE AGEPARALYMPIAN Melissa Tapper hopes her qualification for the able-bodied Commonwealth Games team launches a new generation in Australian table tennis.
The 23-year-old Hamilton woman secured the third spot on the national able-bodied team for the Glasgow Commonwealth Games, which begin in July, at an eight-woman round robin tournament on the Gold Coast last weekend.
No stranger to representing her country on the world stage, having played in the bronze medal play-off at the 2012 London Paralympics, Tapper said her Commonwealth Games selection hadn’t fully sunk in.
She said she had wanted to make the able-bodied team to inspire a changing of the guard in the sport.
“I still can’t believe I finished the tournament third and qualified,” she said.
“It really hasn’t sunk in at all. I’m still on the Gold Coast enjoying a couple of days off with my brother, so I think once I get home and back into training it will all feel a bit more real.
“I’ve tried and tried to qualify for so many Australian able-bodied Commonwealth Games and Olympic teams and been getting closer and closer every time.
“Ever since I started playing I wanted to be on a Commonwealth Games or Olympic team. I just can’t believe 15 years later it’s happened.”
The top six-ranked players in Australia automatically qualified for the Gold Coast tournament. A further two spots were available for qualifiers. Tapper was ranked seventh, but a withdrawal meant she moved into automatic qualification.
Just three positions on the Glasgow team were available on the weekend, with the top two after the initial round robin on Saturday qualifying and the person in last place eliminated.
Tapper was in the remaining five and played in a final round robin on Sunday. She finished on top of that pool and claimed the third spot on the five-woman team for Glasgow. Selectors will decide the final two spots on the team.
Tapper was born with nerve damage in her right arm and despite years of operations to graft nerves from her legs into her right shoulder, she now has little strength in the arm.
She said she wasn’t too concerned about competing against other able-bodied athletes, because she never really saw herself as having a disability.
She turned down an offer to join the Australian Paralympic system when she was about 12 because she was winning national titles, but reconsidered when she was approached again before the London Paralympics.
“I’ve always played against other able-bodied athletes and being left-handed can be a bit of an advantage as well,” she said. “There aren’t many left-handers in able-bodied, so it changes the game a little bit.”
Tapper said following the Commonwealth Games, she would compete in the world para-championships in China.
“There is a strong chance to medal there, so my preparations over the next few months will be focused on Glasgow and China,” she said.
“I’d love to medal at the Commonwealth Games, but I know it’s going to be very difficult.
“Whatever happens, happens.”