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EXCLUSIVE: Egyptian amputee Ibrahim Hamadtou eyes Paralympic glory

Ibrahim Hamato

Photo: International Table Tennis Federation

Nearly three decades ago, Ibrahim Hamadtou lost his upper limbs in a train accident at the age of 10. Now, he is hours away from competing in the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games held from 7 to 18 September. The 43-year-old will represent Egypt in the table tennis event.

Losing both arms is a life-changing experience, but Hamadtou didn’t let the tragic incident hinder him from paving his way to sporting glory and becoming a table tennis champion.

Growing up in a village in Damietta governorate, Hamadtou didn’t have much choice when it came to practicing sports; it was either football or table tennis. Although football, according to him, would have been the easier choice, he decided to play table tennis as a challenge.

“I was watching two of my friends play table tennis and I shared my opinion about a contested point during the game. One of them then told me that I don’t have a say in the game as long as I don’t practice the sport. This was when I decided to challenge myself and start playing table tennis,” Hamadtou told KingFut.

Inspired and challenged, Hamadtou embarked on his table tennis journey, but being a double amputee, he had a tough task ahead, as he needed to figure out a way to grip the racket. Believing that he’ll never know if he can or cannot do something until he tries, Hamadtou tried playing table tennis with his mouth and it worked out.

“Three years after my accident I tried playing by holding the racket under my arm and after I finished I held the paddle with my mouth to put it on the table, and this is when the idea of playing using my mouth came to me,” Hamadtou added.

Hamadtou had to get creative again as this time he needed to develop a strategy to serve the ball, and ended up tossing it with his foot, while holding the racket with his mouth.

Determined, strong-willed and motivated to overcome adversity, Hamadtou who started playing on a professional level in the 1990s, not only succeeded in practicing table tennis, but he excelled in it, winning local and international competitions, including claiming the silver medals in the 2013 and 2015 African Championships.

“I believe the key factors to my success are my determination, hard work and perseverance to achieve a medal,” Hamadtou said.

During the beginning of his journey as a sportsman, Hamadtou suffered from skepticism as a lot of people believed he wouldn’t be able to make it. He however didn’t give up to criticism and in return practiced more. He owes his success to two people who have continuously supported him.

“My late coach Ezzat Kamal, who trained me in a professional manner, and my late uncle Ibrahim who supported me since I was young, are the two people who encouraged me the most during my journey,” he added.

Years of practice on daily basis have paid off as Hamadtou qualified in April to the Rio Paralympics Games after his performance in the African qualifiers. He is categorised in class 6 within the disability classifications range, which includes standing athletes with the highest level of impairment.

“I want to bring home a medal and make Egypt proud. It’d be a great honour,” said Hamadtou regarding his hopes for the Paralympics.

Hamadtou, who is living proof that ‘nothing is impossible’, was as invited to be the guest of honor at the World Team Table Tennis Championships held in Tokyo in 2014, where he got the chance to play against some of the world’s best players. He was also recognised at the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Creative Sports Awards, winning for the category of “athlete who achieved success in sports despite major humanitarian challenges”.

Editor-in-Chief at Pursuing a master's degree in sport policy, management and international development at the University of Edinburgh.

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