Chenoa Paul, pictured third from the left, recently won a Bronze medal in the National Table Tennis competition under the Para category, representing ACT Table Tennis. Not only was this Chenoa’s first ever major Para event, but her Bronze placing was also record breaking for her ACT Table Tennis group team. Chenoa reflected on the experience in her own words:
I was so nervous and excited at the same time, but I was looking forward to the experience and having fun. This achievement has just boosted my confidence, my love for the game, my passion, and the drive to keep challenging myself. Having only played since February 2021, I could not believe my result.
While at the competition, I also met with other friends like myself who has been on the same journey and they too have inspired me so much. I was a normal, healthy girl, until I was nine years old. I started having daily seizures, and I was diagnosed a year later with a very rare and progressive brain condition – Rasmussens Encephalitis. It basically destroys one side of your brain and at the same time physically affects the opposite side of your body (loss of mobility, eventual paralysis).
There is no treatment for this horrible condition.
In May 2018, we made the biggest decision to have life saving surgery. This meant having to disconnect the left hemisphere of my brain from the right, to stop the progression from transferring to the right and stop the seizures.
Having this surgery resulted in me losing the use of my right hand. I have dense weakness on the right side of my body and lost part of my vision in both eyes. I lost my speech soon after surgery, it took me many weeks before I said my first word. I had to relearn how to talk, find my words, make sentences, read, and count numbers. Mum and Dad were very patient with me and started to teach me again from the beginning, like a child, learning sounds and my alphabets and numbers. I had to relearn physical skills too like how to walk, how to balance, sit, and get up.
Because of my partially lost vision I needed to find another way to compensate, so now I must turn my head in a particular direction to see something on my right. I also will not be able to able to drive and get my license. This makes me sad, but I realise that I need to focus on the things that I can do instead.
Since my surgery, I have continued with all my therapies, speech, physio and OT. I also go swimming, play table tennis and joined a Girls Group through Disability Trust. All of this has helped me greatly by gaining strength, independence in doing many things for myself, socialising and keeping busy.
I went back to school 8 months after my surgery and my teachers were a great help assisting me along the way. They made sure I was getting all the help I needed. I finished my year 12 with pride and my held high, that with everything I have been through, I pushed on.
My current goal is to find a job, and my support workers are helping me. I am also going to work on improving my skills and technique at table tennis.
My message to all of us with a disability:
We must focus on what we can do, not what we cannot do!
We are able and capable in our own way, a different way, it is not the wrong way!
We must believe in ourselves – NEVER GIVE UP! (My WWE icon, John Cena)
We may take a little longer getting there, but we will get there!
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