Prose, Grades 7-9: First Place

Ping Pong Pain— Willie Funk

In the heart of the Cold War, another battle rages — U.S. versus the U.S.S.R., except this one is fought with paddles not guns. The Paralympics are hosted this year in Prague, Czechoslovakia. In the final, one contestant from either side of the war faces off. A Russian, William Brom, the defending champ versus me, American Zev Gold. Today I’m fighting for my nation’s glory and my own in this enormous gym. Our first two games are done; he won the first, me the second. It’s all down to the third.
There he is, the defending champ all ready for our match, the floorboards creaking as he slowly lumbers forth, saving energy for the match. The crowd is hushed with excitement, four years of training all coming down to this game. The cold air rushing in through the door of the gymnasium. After only three hours of break, after the semifinals and our first two games, we are both still sweaty. Both of us are ready with our testosterone flowing. Then I go back to my childhood: walking was always a challenge with having had my legs amputated, but after a lot of trial and error at other things, I finally found my passion in ping pong. I want to show those people who bullied me that Zev Gold wouldn’t take those comments lying down. Now I’m at the Paralympics representing my country in ping pong. The announcer’s voice breaks me out of my flashback, “Contestants to your positions.” Vilhelm is here because he lost one of his legs to a grenade. We shake hands and get ready to play. He says with respect, “You’re good, Gold, but you won’t beat me.” As the lights dimmed, our eyes meet, mine and his, each with a cold glare. The official blows his whistle and the game begins. His serve. With a deep breath he hits the ball. His first offering had some spin, so as I am about to hit, it curves over the drooped net. His serve again, because every five serves we switch. Then comes my point, since he served into the net. A volley comes on the next serve, forward and back, forward and back until one of us makes a mistake. He does. I hit it to one side, then the other, and he can’t catch up. The score is 2-1 me, but not for long as his next serve grazes the net and bounces twice on my side before I react. One more breath and he gets the ball to bounce off my side of the table.
My serve now and a golden opportunity comes and goes as a perfect ball bounced past my paddle. “Little by little I can work back,” I think after another point grazed the net to his side. I try my next serve to counter, but he switched it up with sidespin. But now comes an ace, which wipes the smile off his face. My serve backfires and I miss his return. I hit the ball up and he got the point. It’s 6-3 now and I’m behind. Then he gets four straight points, then one for me, and a commercial break. I throw off my sweatband in anger and take a thirst-quenching drink from my water bottle. He’s got 10 points to my four. “I’ve come back from worse,” I thought. With his one real leg, Vilhelm has an advantage over my synthetic legs. Every time I try to return, my legs slow me down. So even with one leg he’s able to support his weight better than me and move faster. My serve. There’s one advantage I have over him. I’m better with my hands. My serves are next, and by changing where I serve to, I get the next five points and soon it’s 9-10. Then we alternated points, one of us getting a point, then the other. This continues until his first serve of his next turn. We’re tied at 15, and in this huge gym, with the noise preventing all hearing, a sharp whistle breaks through the ruckus from my teammates. This reminds me I’m fighting for not just me, but my country. Suddenly on the next play a snap is heard throughout the gym. Thus the crowd goes silent. The deep sound is reverberating throughout the room and the next thing I know I’m on my bottom. My teammates rush to my aid. Then when I try to get up, I can’t because half of my right leg is stuck under the left leg of the table. When it gets pulled out, the material is broken. Thus ends my chance at the Paralympics gold medal. The replays showed that my leg was caught on the leg of the table almost the whole time and that the plastic broke in a place where it was the strongest. So instead of climbing to the top of the podium, I had to be wheeled to my second place step. The U.S.S.R. came out on top today. I’ll never give up on my dream to become a Paralympic ping pong gold medalist.