One evening the girls and I were lounging and our daughter, Lena, asked me tell her a story from my childhood and, really, I had a hard time coming up with one on the spot, but we had been talking about Lena's soccer a bit earlier and that got me thinking about my own illustrious youth sports career. What popped into my consciousness was a ping-pong (ahem, table tennis) program I took when I was either a tween or early teen (late 1970's or early 1980's). It took place over the course of several weeks and our instructor was a woman named Mariann Domonkos.
Table tennis is overshadowed by, well, an awful lot of sports in Canada, so the name of my then instructor may not ring any bells. But she was a very big deal in the sport here in Canada. She won a raft of medals at the 1979 Pan-Am games as well as at various Commonwealth Games and represented Canada at the 1988 Seoul Olympics where she finished 25th in the competition. She later went on to coach the Canadian Women's national team, She seems to have stayed involved in the sport as a photographer of, among other things, table tennis events. She is also an alumna of my high school, Howard S. Billings, in Chateauguay, Quebec, which, I guess, is how she came to be teaching table tennis to a bunch of teens and pre-teens in this suburb of Montreal.
The program was a revelation to me. I had, of course, played table tennis before, but in that slow tentative way - pushing the paddle towards the ball and watching it float over the net. Very slo-mo. So, when Mariann, along with the woman who was helping her teach the course, demonstrated how the game was played at the professional level, I couldn't believe it. The ball was a blur. Instead of the tentative little pushes of the paddle, these women were hitting the ball and putting the force of their whole bodies behind their shots.
My game improved a lot, though I would never become a superstar. I remember we played a couple of tournaments and while I don't think I lost all my games, nor do I recall ever advancing very far. I'm not sure I fully appreciated then the opportunity I was given to learn from such a master of the game, but today I think I'm pretty lucky to have had the chance.
Incidentally, Mariann, like me, seems to live in Ottawa now and she was inducted into the Ottawa Sports Hall of Fame in 2005.