“Playing table tennis with no hands is stupid, but I love it – Martin Perry

There are few athletes who describe their choice of discipline as «absolutely stupid» – but Martin Perry is not like most athletes.

The table tennis player from Drumchapel, Scotland is heading to Paris as part of the ParalympicsGB team, having secured a place at the Games only at the third attempt.

Perry, 30, was born without both arms and one leg, but after trying table tennis at a summer camp at 16, he never looked back.

Now, after trying and failing to make both the 2016 Paralympics in Rio and the delayed 2020 Games in Tokyo, he has finally realized the dream.

«Choosing to play table tennis when you have no hands is nothing short of completely stupid, but when I play I enjoy it,» he said.

«I’m traveling the world, it’s given me a career, a goal and of course the goal of getting to the Paralympics.»

When he started at 16, Perry played with a bat strapped to his arm in a rudimentary fashion.

«From that day on, I just fell in love,» he said. “I didn’t think I was going to be a Paralympian, it was about having fun and making new friends. Then it slowly took over my life.»

He now has a specially modified bat molded on his right forearm with a rubber sleeve for grip. He also plays with a shortened running blade that stands in for a fake leg so he can get lower to the table.

It’s all part of the adjustments Perry has to make to play table tennis. But he takes it in his stride, with a courage he says comes from childhood.

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«People often say I have to have a lot of resilience, but I don’t think about that,» he said.

“It comes from my upbringing, my family wasn’t going to wrap me in cotton wool – if anything they would protect the world from me, I was the little kid running around with three brothers causing havoc. That’s what made me the person I am today.»

«I bawled my eyes out after qualifying»

Perry, who describes fatherhood as «a promotion I never knew I was getting», says it was Siobhan who picked him up after the disappointment of missing the Games three years ago and put him on the path to qualifying for Paris 2024.

«Not qualifying for Tokyo was really tough mentally,» he said. “At that time I was playing the best table tennis I ever had. It took a lot of strength to get back on the table and enjoy it.

“I owe a lot to Siobhan, she dragged me kicking and screaming to get back on the table. This failure really lit the fire to haunt Paris.

Siobhan, meanwhile, says she never doubted her husband.

«He is so determined that he will stop at nothing in life,» she told BBC Sport. «Not just table tennis. The only things he can’t do are buttons or laces.’

Perry qualified for the tournament earlier this year and will compete in the No. 6 men’s singles category in Paris.

Players in this class are able to stand but have severe disabilities in both arms and legs due to a number of disabilities, including missing limbs or amputations. Some players even manipulate the racket with their mouths.

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Perry recalls being overcome with emotion as he realized a lifelong ambition.

«I didn’t officially know I qualified until I was still competing,» he said. «I remember I won the game, I looked at my coach, I said ‘I think I’m in’ and he said ‘yeah you are.’

«I crossed the barrier onto the court, sat down and opened my eyes. So many years of self-doubt, hours of hard work at the desk, it was 14 years of relief.»

He still had it in him to cheat on his wife, which Siobhan almost forgave him for.

«At first I was more upset because when he found out he was going to Paris he sent me a picture of him crying on the side of the court, so I asked ‘didn’t it go well?’ and he said ‘no, I qualified,'» she remembered.

“Once I wasn’t mad about that mean prank, I was so proud. He did so much to make sure he qualified, he went to America in January when the baby was four weeks old, three days after her birth he was in training. He wanted to be home, but he was at training.

«This is the pinnacle of the entire para sport. He did well his senior year but still didn’t think he would qualify. He went to a tournament in Kazakhstan in early March and it went badly and it was hard to watch.

«I was worried about him, I know it means so much to him. But we really wanted it as a family so it was a stressful and emotional time.

“Then he called me and said he had qualified, it was tears of joy. I was embarrassed to cry in public, but I’m so proud of him.”

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