An East Lancashire table tennis champion has a golden chance to secure a place in the Paris Paralympic Games, he just has to win a tournament in Thailand first.

Theo Bishop, 20, from Rawtenstall, is carving out a career for himself in the sport that he happened across by chance.

At 14 months old he was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, he walked on his toes and started Balladen Primary School using a wheeled frame for mobility.

Aged nine, his family and friends raised £45,000 so he could have life changing surgery in America.

Theo said: “I had my operation in 2012, before summer, and so had the holidays to recuperate.

"Then, when I returned to school in September, I was still recovering so not able to play sports.”

That was when Rossendale School Sports Partnership table tennis coach Graham Young was asked to run a session at the school.

As there was no 'proper' table, he pushed two dining tables together and used an expandable net over the centre.

Lancashire Telegraph:

Theo added: “Graham was working with a different year group, but I was offered the chance to try the sport because I could not do anything too physical because of the operation.”

Graham, who still coaches, said: “When I first met Theo, I had never worked with someone who had a disability.

“At that stage, he could only stand there and hit the ball back over the net, but after he went to the Hyndburn Centre and then to Kay Street Table Tennis Club in Rawtenstall.

“I took him to Preston to see the Wales-Scotland international cadet competition and he wanted to be as good as those players.

“When I was his coach, sometimes I was treating him as able-bodied and I was making him move around the table and he would fall over but he always dusted himself off, got back up, He always showed determination and enthusiasm.”

In primary school, Theo would often challenge his teaching assistant, Jeff Stanton.

He said: “In the beginning, I would get beat; but the more I lost, the more I wanted to beat him.

“I always loved any sport and I will always give it a go. Personally, when I am playing a match, it is just me against them.

"I like the feeling of competitiveness, I like the nerves, I like the pressure.”

He left Balladen being able to walk unaided, and passed the 11+ test to attend Bacup and Rawtenstall Grammar School.

His table tennis skills led him, on his 14th birthday, to being selected for the England Development Squad and he played in his first international tournament at 15.

A year later, he got a place at Grantham College Table Tennis Academy and moved out of Rossendale leaving behind mum Mandy, dad Stuart and his older siblings Jamie-Leigh and Thomas.

For the last two years, Theo has been a member of the British Para table tennis team Pathway squad and now lives in Sheffield at Team GB’s training centre, where he spends around 22 hours a week playing table tennis.

He competes in Para Class 7, for competitors with a severe impairment in two limbs.

Theo said: “The plan was to aim for Los Angeles Paralympics in four years’ time, but last September I was selected for the Europeans in Sheffield and I had a really good tournament.

“Unfortunately, a pre-arranged holiday meant my family had to watch my matches on a screen in Turkey, but my Grandma Ann got to see me play live.”

He came close to beating Michal Deigsler in his first match having saved two match points but eventually narrowly lost.

He then beat Luka Trtnik and won his group in the Mens’ Singles Class 7, but lost in the quarter-final.

Last July in the US Open in Texas, Theo and his doubles partner Will Bayley won the gold medal.

In the Kazakhstan Open in March this year, Theo won his first international singles medal, a silver.

His chosen sport has taken him all over the world including Brazil, Croatia, Slovenia, Monte Negro and in May he will travel to Thailand to compete in the World Qualifier.

If he wins his class, he will secure the last spot in the GB squad at the Paralympic Games in August.

Theo added: “It is one of the strongest categories, but I feel all right about the competition.

"Two of the people I beat in Kazakhstan are also in the group and I have as good a chance as anyone of winning it.”

He is always looking for sponsors, as his professional bat costs £250, and that needs repairing every month with parts costing £100.

To support Theo, contact 07910 745551.

A total of 11 other British Para table tennis team athletes are hoping to improve their world ranking in this week’s ITTF Polish Para Open in Wladyslawowo, the last tournament in the qualification period for the 2024 Paralympic Games in Paris.

One member of the British squad for the ITTF Polish Para Open is Fliss Pickard, 29, from Burnley.

BPTT Performance Director Gorazd Vecko said: “This is a difficult time for the athletes who are on the borderline of qualification and are looking for good results in Poland that will ensure direct qualification for Paris when the new world rankings are published in April. 

"The qualification system has been even tougher this time and, in some classes, even a top five world ranking will not guarantee qualification so this will be a very important tournament for the team with many talented athletes from around the world also fighting for their place in Paris.”

For those athletes who do not qualify directly on their world ranking, there will be a final chance to qualify at the Paralympic World Qualification Tournament in Thailand from May 23-25.