Paralympics

Stephanie Chan wants more Canadian women to play her sport

After her thrilling fourth-place finish in Rio today, Stephanie Chan is looking for more Canadian women to try their hand at para-table tennis.

Para table tennis pioneer wants to grow the game at home

Stephanie Chan hopes her success in para table tennis will grow the sport in Canada. (Scott Grant/Canadian Paralympic Committee)

RIO DE JANEIRO — After her thrilling fourth-place finish in Rio today, Stephanie Chan is looking for more Canadian women to try their hand at para table tennis.

"I would like more Canadian ladies to play," said the 59-year-old.  "I have to play with my friends, as there are no disabled athletes where I play in Vancouver."

In fact, there are actually no other Canadian women with a disability playing the sport at an elite level anywhere from coast-to-coast.

Following the debut match of Canada's oldest Paralympian last Thursday, her coach John MacPherson spoke about how he is hoping Chan's performance in Rio can be a catalyst for growing the game.

"It is a matter of her being a role model for future athletes," said MacPherson. "We have to develop our sport. Right now we don't have a lot of players playing, and for females, honestly we have none. She's it.

"We want the the younger players to come out and see that there are opportunities, because there are opportunities."

Chan's march to Tuesday's bronze medal battle against the Republic of Korea's Kim Seong-Ok might very well get this aspiration realized.

MacPherson, who competed in table tennis himself at the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games, classified the online buzz created by Chan as bigger than anything he has seen in a career that has taken him to three Paralympic Games and four Parapan American Games. The coach says people rallied around Chan because of how she plays, and because she is an honourable person.

It turns out that her play has sparked more than just social media admiration.

"Already we have had three or four replies on my email from people from Canada wanting to play," said MacPherson.

There are certainly many opportunities for Canadian men and women to play the game, considering there are 22 classification groups for various disabilities — 11 for both men and women — for para table tennis.

MacPherson said a collaborative partnership between Table Tennis Canada and the table tennis centres across Canada is needed to stimulate the growth of the game.

"My hope is when we identify those who are interested in trying, these clubs will embrace the para movement, which is going to be a challenge I think, and incorporate these people into their clubs, and coach them, encourage them and we'll take it from there."

The national organization is aiming to send a larger contingent of athletes to the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo, Japan. Who knows, perhaps that Canadian team will include a 63-year-old Stephanie Chan.

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