Being born with no hands and one leg was the best thing to ever happen to me!
Hi, I’m Martin and 27 years ago I was born with no hands and one leg. As you can imagine this was a massive shock to my family. I’m the youngest of 4 boys and my siblings and parents are what you would call able-bodied…I would say normal but as a family we’re far from it, haha!
Life as a kid was fun and myself and my brothers found happiness in playing sport and causing mayhem, as most young boys do. I was never treated special by my family or given any sort of extra help. To be honest, I’m so glad they treated me like anyone else, it has set me up for an independent lifestyle. An independent lifestyle that has led me to driving myself to the cafe I’m sitting in, typing this blog. I know, who would have thought it, me, a guy with no hands and one leg, in a cafe in 2021! What a year (and a bit) this has been, but we’ll get to that later.
I won’t bore you with life growing up as a kid and going through a couple of big operations, tissue graft at 5 because my pesky tibia thought it would be a good idea to grow outside of my skin, and an amputation at 10, that tibia just didn’t know when it was beat…fair play. It was in High School that I finally realised that I loved sport, not playing with my brothers or friends, but actual organised sport. I’ve always been competitive and there was nothing better than competing in school against people, let’s face it, I had no right to beat, and when I did it felt great. When I didn’t? Ah, I’ll win next time. Sport gave me freedom, it gave me a level playing field, it gave me a sense of belonging. I was happy playing sport. I still am.
I’m incredibly lucky to call myself a professional athlete, me, Martin from Paisley. Martin from Paisley with no hands and one leg, a professional athlete. What!? How lucky am I? Sometimes I have to pinch myself, I think I’ve got the best job in the world. So, what is the sport of choice when you have no hands and one leg? Table tennis of course!
I first started playing table tennis in 2011, I joined Drumchapel Table Tennis Club after trying the sport at a Scottish Disability Sport summer camp that same year. I was hooked instantly and fell in love with the game. I won’t believe anyone who says that they’ve played table tennis and not had a good time. 2 years went by and I was invited to Hungary by table tennis Scotland to undergo my international classification. It was amazing, I lost every match at the Hungarian Open, but I got classified and I knew this was what I wanted to do. Two more years went by, trying to juggle university and training as much as I could when I was invited to live and train full-time in Sheffield with the GB team. The tremendous athletes I had witnessed win medals at London 2012, I was now living and training with. What!? I couldn’t believe it. In 2017 I was promoted to the GB Performance Squad, as high as it gets, I could now call myself a professional athlete, what a privilege. Since first representing GB I’ve gone on to win over 50 international medals including becoming US Open champion, 2x British Champion & 2x European Team Champion.
It really is the old cliche as an athlete, but I genuinely do feel immense pride every time I pull on the jersey. But all the trials and tribulations as an athlete, all the traveling, all the highs and lows associated with competing, was absolutely nothing compared to the year we’ve all been dealt.
In 2020 I was in the midst of trying to qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, but after falling short at the Spanish Open, I knew I would have to go to the World Qualification Tournament in Slovenia 3 months later in May. Well, upon return from the Spanish Open, we as a team, were thrust into isolation. This was only a precaution, we would of course be back in training two weeks later…or so we thought. As we were about to return to training the world was thrust into lockdown. Myself and my wife Siobhain were in the process of moving into our new flat, we didn’t even have a bed and the world was closed, no shops, no training, no anything. We slept on the floor for a few nights before the savior of 2021, the internet, came to fruition and we managed to secure a bed. So, it made for a laugh, we’d have a couple of weeks doing up the flat before I’d go back to training and Siobhain back to the office. A few weeks came and went and we were still in the flat. The qualification event got pushed back to July to allow the world to get back to normality, but before we got close, the season was scrapped and Tokyo was postponed.
So, what do you do as an athlete with nowhere to train, nobody to train with and an abundance of energy you have no idea what to do with? I flung myself into running and home workouts, zoom strength & conditioning sessions with the team, Zoom family quizzes with Siobhain and you know what? I was actually enjoying it. I had nothing to train for besides my own personal fitness, I was able to actually spend time with my wife for once and we were able to piece together our own little home at our leisure and we love it. What more could I want? 6 months into lockdown athletes were given the all-clear to resume training, so I packed my bags and went back to Sheffield. As quick as it was off the table, the World Qualification event for Tokyo was back on, just a year later that’s all. I had a focus again, a purpose, a goal. The hunger was reignited, and I was desperate to compete again.
By the time the event came to pass, I was ready. It started off well with me topping my group and making it to the quarter-final. It was there that my Tokyo dreams would come to an end. I lost 11-9 in the 5th set, which in table tennis is as close as it gets. I cried, I felt sorry for myself, and I cried some more. It’s been a few weeks since I lost out on securing my spot in Tokyo and upon reflection, I’ve made my peace with it. I wasn’t good enough on the day and I have three years to right that wrong. I’ve been back in training helping my team prepare for Tokyo as best I can, and I’m enjoying it, I don’t have time for tears or feeling sorry for myself anymore. I need to get back to it, focusing on getting better than I was yesterday, getting better for tomorrow. My new goal is Paris 2024, we have a few pit-stops on the way – the World Championships in ’22 and Euros in ’23. But the end goal remains the same, Paris 2024 and being able to call myself a Paralympian.
My name is Martin Perry, I have no hands and one leg, and I wouldn’t change it for the world!