It is often said that Parkinson’s Disease slowly diminishes one’s world by gradually taking away the ability to actively engage in activities. The progressive nature of this neurological disease can become debilitating to the point where a person can no longer perform what was once automatic and fluid. Everyone’s course of the disease is different; some progress at a rapid rate while other’s course is slow and gradual. I was diagnosed with PD approximately 10 years ago at the age of 48 and have been fortunate enough to have been able to maintain my lifestyle with very few modifications. This is due in part to my commitment to daily exercise. It’s only recently that I found myself needing to make a decision to give up playing tennis which had been a major part of my life and identity.
I began playing tennis at the age of 7, just over 50 years ago! I played with family, friends and on competitive teams throughout my childhood. I also played in college and as an adult on USTA teams. It’s a social sport which connected me to people throughout my entire life. I met some of my closest friends on tennis teams and social games. When COVID hit, the whole tennis community went into “hibernation”, a natural break where we all gave up our indoor tennis games in order to remain safe by maintaining social distancing. The timing of this was impeccably convenient for me to subtly transition away from tennis as it was becoming clear that it was unsafe for me to play. At the time, when COVID was immobilizing the world, Parkinson’s was immobilizing my feet. They had begun to freeze in the middle of a point; my brain would tell my feet to move yet they remained cemented to the court. The result was that my body would thrust forward without my feet and I would fall down for the slightest moment and then bounce back up, almost in time to get to the ball and remain in the point. If I was lucky enough my doubles partner would get to the ball and make the shot, but inevitably the other players on the court would stop the point to make sure I was ok. This placed too much attention on me which made me feel uncomfortable. Plus, I started to realize that I was at risk for becoming injured which potentially could have led to a cascade of negative ramifications if I was unable to exercise -a downward spiral that I did not want to experience.
As our world starts to open up again with COVID cases declining, I have decided to put all of my energy into playing table tennis, a sport that I revisited 3 years ago when I walked into the Westchester Table Tennis Center and learned about the Ping Pong Parkinson program. After 3 years of playing both sports and constantly having to adjust my stroke, I have made a conscious decision to solely play ping pong. I have yet to freeze or lose my footing when I play since it uses a different brain circuitry system and it’s a smaller space for my feet to cover. It almost feels reflexive, so there is no time for my feet to freeze in a response to initiate movement.
My decision to transition from tennis to table tennis is serendipitously timed for me to be able to train for the next Parkinson’s Table Tennis World Championship. I will be heading to Berlin at the beginning of September to defend my title as the gold medal winner of the 2019 Women's Singles. My training has begun, and my sole focus on table tennis has enabled me to already see notable improvement in my table tennis skills. The commitment to playing ping pong has its silver linings, like meeting a very diverse, international group of people at the Westchester Table Tennis Center where I have made new friends who bring a whole different experience.
It is important for me to acknowledge my sad feelings that accompany this decision, but with this loss comes new opportunities. I am focusing on what I can do rather than what Parkinson’s has taken from me. I choose to view it as what Parkinson’s has given to me as I continue to enjoy a different type of tennis, as described below in a local Channel 12 News Story first aired on 6/23/21. Margie Alley