The Official Website of the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games  September 6-17, 2008

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Mind over matter for Natalia Partyka

Updated:2008-09-08 15:05:31
Mind over matter for Natalia Partyka
Natalia Partyka competes in the Women's Team Table Tennis event of Beijing 2008 Olympics. (Photo credit: Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Even without a right hand and forearm, Natalia Partyka can spin a table tennis ball so skillfully that some of the world's best able-bodied athletes have trouble following the trajectory.

Here in Beijing, Partyka was one of only two athletes with a disability that qualified to compete in the Olympic Games (the other being South African swimmer Natalie du Toit).

"I am happy to play at the Olympics. My dream has come true. Although I lost in the Team events, I was happy to play against the best players in the world," she said.

Partyka holds the world's attention with her tactical, yet graceful, movements while navigating the Table Tennis court. After serving, when she cradles the plastic ball in a nook at the edge of her forearm for the throw, there is no other indication that she is competing with only one arm.

Mind over matter for Natalia Partyka
Natalia Partyka competes in the women's team table tennis event of Beijing 2008 Olympics. (Photo credit: Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images)

The Polish athlete was born with her right arm ending at the elbow. Her success in the sport of Table Tennis is especially impressive considering most athletes use their free arm not only for the serving toss, but also for maintaining balance while moving around the table and returning the ball.

Now at the age of 19, Partyka is considered one of Europe's greatest young athletes, making history as the first Table Tennis player to compete in both the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

"I hope to be the role model," she says of her accomplishments.

Growing up with a sister four years her elder helped Partyka hone the determination that now is so much a part of her athletic life. Starting at age seven, Partyka took on sibling Sandra on the Table Tennis court. Although at first she was beaten over and over again, she never stopped dreaming of the day that she would defeat her older sister.

When she finally did win, it wasn't only her sister she toppled.

At only 11-years-old, Partyka represented her country in the 2000 Sydney Paralympics, the youngest player in any sport to compete. Four years later, after battling in Athens, Partyka returned to Poland with the gold.

Her list of achievements is long, with wins at junior and world level competitions, including tournaments intended for able-bodied athletes.

Earlier in 2008, at the World Championships in Guangzhou, she defeated opponent Li Jiawei of Singapore, ranked sixth in the world. In August at the Olympics, she lost to Tie Yana of Hong Kong SAR, but only after forcing the World No. 10 into an intense five set game.

"I want to win the gold again," she said after prevailing in her first Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games match against Andrey le Morvan of France on September 7. "It's going to be a lot more difficult though because of China. Everyone expects me to win but it's not that easy. If I continue to play well then hopefully it will be me in the final."

No doubt her modest determination will daunt rivals as she seeks to defend her Paralympic title.

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