Anqi Luo and Shannon Zheng battle back and forth under extreme concentration. Their movements amount to a dance class workout, and they smash the ping pong ball at speeds that make you bobble your head. The two student athletes showcased their abilities at UTM’s Table Tennis Challenge last Thursday. Luo and Zheng aren’t just nationally-ranked table tennis players with an Olympic dream—they’re also UTM students.
Everyone knows the game table tennis; most likely you grew up playing family members and friends, frustrated you couldn’t smash the ball like Bruce Lee with nunchuks. Well, you may not recognize them yet, but the two young ladies walking next to you in the halls are the best in the country.
Anqi Luo is a 19-year-old table tennis phenomenon born in Foshan, China, who now resides in Mississauga. Luo has her own Wikipedia page. She won a bronze medal in the women’s doubles at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and was also a bronze medalist at last year’s Pan Am Games in Toronto. Her mother is a former Chinese national team member and current Canadian women’s team coach.
Shannon Zheng is also a UTM student, doing a master’s program in hopes of a career in the healthcare sector. Zheng was the captain of the University of Ottawa table tennis team when she was there for her undergraduate degree. She won a silver medal at the 2013 North American Collegiate Table Tennis Championships and was a candidate for the London 2012 Olympic games.
Yan Tam-Seguin, project manager for Student Affairs and Services at UTM, helped organize the Table Tennis Challenge, which fundraised for the United Way Foundation.
“We want to let people know we’ve got an enormous advantage with two elite-level athletes here at UTM. For the first time, we have a recognized table tennis club at our school. We want to let students know that there is this ability for students to come out and play,” said Tam-Seguin.
The primary objective of organizing this fundraiser was to bring together a community of students in a friendly way; people of any skill level, gender, age, and ethnicity can come and play one another.
Luo has wanted to raise the profile of table tennis as a sport at UTM since the beginning of the school year. She’s been able to combat the misnomer that table tennis is simply a basement game; she’s already brought in a larger community of table tennis players that didn’t realize the commonly shared interest.
Tam-Seguin’s son has been practicing at the same table tennis training facility Luo trains at. “He comes back from table tennis training just as sweaty and exhausted as if he were to come back from a hockey practice,” she said.
Pritesh Patel, UTM’s table tennis club president, was in attendance at the event, looking on to see what kind of attention Luo and Zheng attracted. He was happy to see a large group of students participate and take on the two athletes in quick games. Even principal Deep Saini looked on proudly.
The Table Tennis Club is in its first year of existence. The two events they’ve held so far have taken place in multipurpose room B at the RAWC. This semester, they look to bring in even more people and turn table tennis into a competitive sport here on campus.
“Our primary goal is to bring together all the table tennis players. At our most recent tournament, we had around 20 players show up,” said Patel. “We’re hoping to expand our numbers and funding so that we can get more tables. I hope we can host events in Gym C that’ll bring more exposure to our club, and it’s something more students can get involved with.”
In Zheng’s experience, the game has been a great way for her to destress and improve mental quickness. “Whether you’re athletic or not, anyone can play. Playing gives you that break from classes. It can be challenging, and it stimulates the mind and improves hand-eye coordination,” says Zheng.
“I am glad to have the opportunity of experiencing an interesting and unique life that table tennis has brought me,” said Luo in a previous interview.
I took on Luo in a quick game, knowing she was going to make me fall to my knees. I’m still proud to tell my friends I got beaten badly (5-1) by a 5’3” 19-year-old female with a wicked serve, whom we’ll hopefully watch compete for gold at the 2020 Olympic games.