Top of the table
For most of us, a game of table tennis is about mucking around in a garage with friends, or something you did once or twice in primary school and haven’t given much thought to since. But one quick YouTube search of professional table tennis players giving it their all and you know this sport is as athletic and sweat inducing as they come – just ask Milly Tapper.
While she recently pulled off the incredible feat of being the first Australian to compete in both the Olympics and Paralympics, table tennis pro Milly admits she is used to defending her game.
“Everyone is always surprised it’s a real sport. So many people say to me, ‘Yeah, I can take you on’ until they understand what it’s all about,” she said. “I wish people understood how difficult it is.”
In spite of her disability, table tennis came easily to Milly when she picked up her first bat in primary school. Diagnosed with Erb’s Palsy resulting from complications during her birth, Milly suffered significant nerve damage in her right shoulder and arm, which restricted development, movement and strength.
“The added benefit of table tennis for me is it’s a one-hand dominant sport,” she said. “I’m used to doing things one handed, so the technique came easier.”
Not that she ever thought back in primary school that she’d one day be representing Australia as a professional table tennis player. “Originally, I dreamt of making it to the Olympics with athletics like Cathy Freeman,” she said.
Finding her niche with table tennis and making both the Olympic and Paralympic teams in 2016 took Milly years of focused training – she is far from an overnight success.
“It was a whole 16 years’ worth of trying to achieve at each qualification event, and trying and failing or falling short. Then to actually have it happen, I had to ask myself, ‘Is this for real?’” she said.
While she didn’t medal at either of the Games, Milly remains optimistic and proud of her achievements.
“I knew I had done absolutely everything possible beforehand to prepare myself. That’s what helps me sleep well at night. I know I couldn’t have done any better,” she said.
“Plus, at the Olympics I drew a Brazilian player who was 200 world ranks ahead of me. It was really tough, but I played a lot better than what I should have. Just to enjoy the whole experience and have a stadium of 5,000 people cheering for every point was incredible."
When Milly isn’t in training, she’s a proud supporter of Standing Tall, a mentoring program in her home town of Hamilton in rural Victoria. “It’s a fantastic program. When I go home I love to talk with the kids or visit their schools to see how they’re doing. Standing Tall makes sure the kids in my town have the best opportunities they can get,” she said.
Even with all of her incredible achievements, winning the 2017 ACU Young Alumni of the Year award came as a total surprise to the Bachelor of Exercise Science graduate. “It was very exciting when I found out. I don’t do what I do for accolades, so to be recognised was a huge honour for me,” Milly said. “It’s still funny to think that people look up to me. I’m just doing what I would normally do.”
Milly Tapper completed a Bachelor of Exercise Science at ACU. Explore our exercise science programs.