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Determined Burnley table tennis player eyes up Paralympics
4:16pm Tuesday 24th September 2013 in Sport
THREE words perfectly sum up Felicity Pickard – stubborn, determined and competitive – a combination she hopes will take her to the top in table tennis.
The Burnley teenager is no stranger to showing her stubborn streak, turning her back on a range of sports until she found the one she truly felt comfortable with.
Even when she took up table tennis, she was determined to prove others wrong – those who thought her cerebral palsy would restrict her progress.
Now on the eve of competing in the European Para Table Tennis Championships, the 19-year-old former Thomas Whitham sixth form student is ready to show that competitive edge – something she inherited from her dad Will.
“Even when we were just playing a board game at home he would never let me win,” recalls Felicity, who quickly learnt that victory is not just handed to you and that you have to earn the right.
Felicity’s will to win meant that she tried and turned down a range of sports – for either not giving her the competitiveness she craved or a sport she felt she could not achieve her dream of competing in the Paralympics.
“I had started horse riding but the only equestrian sport in the Paralympics is dressage and I wanted to do more than dressage,” said Felicity who also tried boccia and swimming, both of which failed to provide her with the challenge that she wanted.
However, it was table tennis that really ticked all the boxes.
“I have always wanted to achieve something,” said Felicity who is the reigning British champion in her class. “And I found I could do that with table tennis.”
But it was almost by mistake that Felicity found table tennis.
She had decided to give up competitive sport and instead turned her attentions to voluntary work which culminated with her winning the Burnley Volunteer of the Year in 2010 and subsequently accompanied 24 disabled and disadvantaged children on the Journey of a Lifetime to Borneo.
Having been honoured for her work locally, Felicity believes it is important to highlight the efforts of those competing and working in amateur sport - and welcomes the Lancashire Telegraph Grassroots Heroes awards.
“I think awards like these are great because they give recognition to people who really deserve it,” she said.
“I won a volunteer of the year award in Burnley a few years ago and it really meant a lot to me. It was nice to be acknowledged for the work I had done and it really spurs you on, “So it is important to have awards in amateur sport because it means so much to everyone involved.”
It was while she was volunteering at Hyndburn Table Tennis Club that coach Michael Moir asked Felicity if she wanted to play - he quickly spotted she had a natural ability and Felicity had finally found the sport in which she could excel.
“I had only played on holiday before but Michael asked me to play and I really enjoyed it,” recalls Felicity. “At the time, my dad wasn’t sure if it was the sport for me as he thought my coordination and movement would work against me. In fact, table tennis has helped to really improve me. Michael has been brilliant and has really helped me.”
Felicity only started playing in 2010 but made her international debut at the Czech Open a year later and is currently part of the GB Para Table Tennis Team Development Squad.
And on the international circuit, she has struck up a bond with Sandra Paovic, the Olympic table tennis player from Croatia who suffered a severe spinal injury in a car accident in 2009.
She continues to benefit from advice from Paovic, who is in regular contact with Felicity.
“I didn’t want to think of myself as a disabled athlete,” admits Felicity, “and Sandra has helped me to come to terms with that and see it as a positive. Sport sets me free from my disability.”
Now she is busy preparing herself for European Para Table Tennis Championships which begin in Italy.
She doesn’t expect to go there and win it but her competitive nature means she is not just going to make up the numbers.
“It will be great to be able to test myself against the top players from across Europe,” she said. “But I am very competitive and I will be going there to try my best and win matches.”
“Some of the best table tennis players from across Europe will be there so it will be great to be able to test myself against them,” she said. “But I am very competitive and I will be going there to try my best and win matches.”
She added: “At the moment, it is all about gaining experience competing at this level. It is a stepping stone for me that will hopefully lead to bigger and better things.”
Felicity has already competed in international events in Slovenia, Italy and Hungary and it already looking at the bigger picture.
“My short term aim is to continue to compete and do well in the big competitions and try and get up the world rankings.
“My long term aim is to try and get to the major championships and ultimately compete at the Paralympics.”
And with that combination of stubbornness, determination and a highly competitive streak, don’t bet against Felicity achieving those aims.
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