Age is just a number for table tennis para-athlete Phú

August 08, 2022 - 09:12
Lý Xuân Phú leisurely prepared himself with the experience of a man who has done it all before with some light stretches to warm up before checking the paddle, the ball, the net and the table.

ASEAN Para Games

Table tennis athlete Lý Xuân Phú is still competing at the age of 69, proving that age and impairment can't hold him back. Photos courtesy of Lý Xuân Phú


Thanh Hà

HÀ NỘI  Lý Xuân Phú leisurely prepared himself with the experience of a man who has done it all before with some light stretches to warm up before checking the paddle, the ball, the net and the table.

At 69 years old Phú was the most senior athlete at the 11th ASEAN Para Games which closed on Saturday in Surakarta, Indonesia.

Once the game started, Phú showed didn't show any sign that his age might slow him down. Active and agile, he was running back and forth around the table to either manage the ball or open attacks.

Despite his age, the extraordinary spirit of the man from Bắc Giang Province still burns for his country.

Born in Lục Ngạn District, Phú competed in the table tennis class 8 for athletes with moderate impairment of the legs or a moderately affected playing arm.

The grandfather of five took part in both the single, double and team events at the Solo Techno Park and brings home one bronze medal with him.

Late starter

Phú is no stranger to the community of table tennis for athletes with disabilities. He has been playing the game that requires strong fitness and a high level of tactics for decades.

Lý Xuân Phú has collected a huge number of medals from domestic and international competitions. 

"I have been playing tennis since I was young. At first table tennis was a kind of entertainment for me. I took part in the game for fun and to improve my physical strength," Phú told Việt Nam News.

But when Việt Nam hosted the SEA Games and the Para Games for the first time in 2003, his sporting status changed.

Months before the Games, sports officials scouted people with disabilities who played sports. Phú was among hundreds of people selected. They were trained for months and took part in the national championship to qualify. 

Despite being 50 years old, Phú won the championship and officially became a member of the national team. A further three-month training course prepared him for the Para Games.

The short and intensive training course helped the man, who ran a small business selling and buying gold to feed his family, shine at the Games.

"I won two golds and one silver in the Para Games debut. It was really a big surprise for me as I was a rural man with little training," said Phú.

"It has been 11 Games since its launch in 2001. And I have taken part in eight Games, pocketing dozens of golds, silvers and bronzes from the previous Games and I'm really happy with my achievement," he said.

Phú was disappointed when the Philippines Games in 2019 dropped the sport. And then the Hà Nội event suffered the same fate. Luckily, Indonesia stepped in to host the Games, giving him the chance to compete after five years of waiting.

This year, Phú could only take a bronze medal but was pleased with it.

"Like many athletes, I was happy with the news. The feeling like we were confined and then released. I was excited to compete," Phú said.

Lý Xuân Phú (right) on the podium with his bronze medal in the men's team class 8 catergory at the 11th Para Games in Indonesia. 

"However, for different reasons, I could only self-practice at home without suitable support. While my rivals, some of them were young and physically strong, trained and competed regularly in preparation for the tournament.

"I tried my best and earning a bronze at my age is a good result for me, although of course, I hoped more than that."

No plan to rest

In his 20-year career, Phú has taken part in various competitions and he also collected many medals. Among them, a silver in an open tournament in the US, gold in an event in Thailand and a bronze from a tournament in the Middle East, all amazing results.

But his best achievement was a bronze in the FESPIC Games, an official sports meet for the person with disabilities in the Far East and South Pacific region, in Malaysia in 2006.

The busy Phú is now preparing for the Cambodian meeting next May.

"If the Hangzhou Asian Para Games were not postponed, I would represent Việt Nam next month. Now, it is moved to 2023, so I have a little time to improve myself for Cambodia," said Phú.

"I have to defend my national championship title in April to retain my berth in the national team. But I am confident about that because currently, I am still the best in my category.

"I am old but I never stop training. If anyone wants to overthrow me, he must work hard and wait for a couple of years."

With his perseverance, hard work, and love for table tennis, Phú proves that there is no physical or age barrier to making the country proud.

 Lý Xuân Phú (first right) has about 10 months to prepare for the next Games in Cambodia. 

"And I still hope to win international medals. Old age and impairment do not mean that I must surrender and accept fate," said Phú. VNS