Table tennis has changed Melissa Tapper’s life in more ways than one.
The 22-year-old, who grew up in Hamilton and now lives in Melbourne, has not only travelled to more than 15 countries and placed fourth at the London Paralympic Games, she also met her boyfriend Simon Gerada through the sport.
Tapper’s rise to the top followed an upbringing in which she was never made to feel different.
Despite sustaining a brachial plexus injury during childbirth that resulted in Erb’s palsy and limited use of her right arm, Tapper never let her disability hold her back.
In fact, she never viewed herself as having a disability, which was why she admits she was a little hesitant at first when encouraged to consider setting her sights on the Paralympics.
“It wasn’t how I viewed myself,” the 22-year-old said.
“I was happy competing in the able-bodied competitions.”
It’s not surprising either, as she was the top junior female table tennis player in Australia at the age of 18, under 18 Oceania champion and under 21 Australian champion.
Quite a feat for someone who didn’t pick up a table tennis bat until the age of 12.
“My PE teacher at primary school in Hamilton encouraged me to try it out,” Tapper said.
She then decided to play in the junior pennant at Hamilton Table Tennis Association and it wasn’t long before she was encouraged to compete in junior tournaments.
Melissa said her experience at the London Paralympic Games exceeded her expectations.
“I talked to as many people as I could before I went to find out what it would be like, but you really don’t know what it’s like until you’re there,” she said.
“It was unbelievable and so much more than I could have imagined.”
Tapper’s boyfriend, along with her parents Charles and Dianna, who live in Hamilton, remain her greatest supporters.
Tapper said she also owed a lot to people who have coached her along the way including Jiang Fang Lay, Alois Rosario and Joe Gerada.
She has a scholarship at the Victorian Institute of Sport (VIS), where she also works as a receptionist part-time.
Tapper said while she loved travelling, sometimes there was nothing better than returning home to Hamilton to catch up with friends.
She said she was extremely humbled by the phone calls, texts and well wishes she received while competing at the Paralympics.
As for the future? “Bring on Rio,” Tapper said.