Table tennis player uses sport to recover

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CHAMPAIGN — After a life-changing accident, a man lost the use of half his body, but not his love of the table tennis. Paul Selvin is a physics professor and ping pong player, but both his brain and right hand were damaged after a car hit him. It’s taken him years to recover.

The accident happened thirteen years ago. Selvin says many things are still a challenge, but that hasn’t stopped him from playing his favorite childhood game. Selvin looks like a natural with a table tennis racket, but it’s taken the fight of his life to get where he is.

“I was hit by a car, which is not a good thing,” said Selvin. “I had a brain bleed and I had a stroke that messed up my right hand, so I now play with my left hand.”

Playing again was one of the last concerns after the accident. The stroke left him in a serious condition.

“All things that you consider every day things become really difficult,” said Selvin. “And in my case, I had to learn to speak again. And I’ve mostly done that.”

After years of recovery, Selvin started playing ping pong again with his young son. They joined the Champaign County Table Tennis Club a few years ago. Three days a week, you can find Selvin there, exercising not only his body, but his mind.

“I have to move around, which is unfortunately not so easy for me,” said Selvin. “I have to get my coordination in terms of my forehand and backhand. The constant challenge of having to play with my left hand is really good not only for my left hand but actually for my brain.”

“Table tennis is a sport where the brain has to work a lot,” said Bryant Evans, who is the Champaign County Table Tennis club president. “It has to read spin on the ball. You have to make quick decisions about what is the appropriate stroke given what’s coming, how to move your feet. There’s a lot of thinking that’s going on. It’s been compared to like playing puzzles and mastering puzzles to improve brain function.”

The sport has been therapeutic for Selvin, serving up not just exercise, but fun. “Really it’s just an amazing group of people,” said Selvin.

“One of my best friends here is a truck driver and another is a farmer. Another’s an accountant. The point is, people from all diversities of life come here and together we have something in common. And that really is unusual. It really is nice.”

Even with his disability, Selvin says he doesn’t do too badly for himself in competitions. He plays with the club in up to three tournaments a year. They practice Monday, Wednesday and Saturday at the Next Generation School in Champaign.

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