Paralympics Table Tennis Player Ibrahim Hamadtou: “Nothing is Impossible”

Ibrahim Hamadtou at the Rio Paralympics.

The Paralympics are a revelation, an everyday reminder that our perceptions about what we can all physically accomplish is likely way below reality. Sometimes these reminders are so brash, they exceed our limited levels of experience and amaze us.

A case in point is Ibrahim Hamadtou of Egypt. When he was 10, he lost his arms in a train accident. Today, the 43-year-old table tennis player has astounded spectators at the Rio Paralympics, as well as new fans on the internet. In table tennis, the general classifications are for those who need to play in a sitting position, and those who can play in a standing position. Hamadtou can stand, but different from a majority of this opponents, he has no hands with which to hold the racquet.

Instead, he holds the ping pong paddle in his mouth, and adjusts his body, neck and head so quickly and gracefully that he can return a majority of the shots that come his way. He qualified for these Paralympics by finishing second in the 2016 African Championships. In his first Paralympics, he played two games, lost them both, and did not medal. But his skill in performing at the level he does without both arms is astounding.

His serve requires the use of his shoeless foot, where he grabs the ball from the floor, flips it up in the air, and sends the ball across the net with the table tennis raquet gripped tightly between his teeth. There are no coaches that teach this style. There are no YouTube videos he could consult. Although now there are, and they are videos of Hamadtou.

“I want to tell everybody that nothing is impossible, and everybody should work hard for what you love and what you think is good for yourself,” Hamadtou told the Paralympics website before the games began. “The disability is not in arms or legs, the disability is to not persevere in whatever you would like to do.”