Feature: Brazilian para-paddler pushes toward Paris Olympics-Xinhua


Feature: Brazilian para-paddler pushes toward Paris Olympics

Source: Xinhua

Editor: huaxia

2024-02-22 11:06:17

Bruna Alexandre serves to Miu Hirano during their women's team Group 2 match at the 2024 ITTF World Team Table Tennis Championships Finals in Busan, South Korea, Feb. 19, 2024. (Xinhua/Zhang Tao)

Having notched three wins in the group stage at the ITTF World Team Table Tennis Championships Finals in Busan, Bruna Alexandre became Brazil's first athlete to compete at both a Paralympic Games and World Championships in any sport.

BUSAN, South Korea, Feb. 22 (Xinhua) -- It's hard for Bruna Alexandre to go unnoticed, even at a major competition like the World Table Tennis Championships.

Put the ball on her paddle, toss it high, and strike it for a topspin - this is the way for the one-armed Brazilian paddler makes her serve every time. 

"I needed to practice it for two or three years to get used to this," said Alexandre.

As Brazil's No. 3 women's player, Alexandre notched three wins in the group stage at the ITTF World Team Table Tennis Championships Finals in Busan, which was her first appearance in the event, with her defensive play in rallies and way of service raising many people's attention. She helped Brazil finish second in the group and advance to the knockout stage.

In a nail-biting 3-2 win against Luxembourg, Alexandre initiated the comeback effort for her side with a 3-1 victory over Tessy Gonderinger.

The only loss for her in the group phase was a straight-game one against Japan's Miu Hirano, who outranked her by 211 positions in the world rankings. Despite the huge gap in rankings and techniques between the two players, some quality shots from Alexandre drew plenty of cheers from spectators.

Bruna Alexandre returns the ball to Miu Hirano, Feb. 19, 2024. (Xinhua/Tao Xiyi)

"Before I came here, I just thought about giving my best and helping the team," explained Alexandre, who always wears a smile.

"The one against Japan was the most difficult for me, but I was happy that I had the opportunity of playing against them," the 28-year-old remarked.

Alexandre added another point in Brazil's 3-1 win against Hungary to qualify for the last-16, though their campaign in Busan came to an end on Wednesday as they lost to hosts South Korea 3-1 in the round of 16, with Alexandre falling to Lee Zi-on in straight games.

"I try to enjoy myself as much as I can during the match, and with the team I feel comfortable and confident to play well," she commented.

According to World Table Tennis, with her appearance in Busan, Alexandre became Brazil's first athlete to compete at both a Paralympic Games and World Championships in any sport.

Alexandre lost her right arm when she was three months old due to thrombosis after a vaccination.

"I have to get used to it," she said. "If I had lost my arm now, it would be harder to find a way to live. In the beginning it was quite difficult, but now it's OK."

Despite losing an arm at a very young age, table tennis opened the door for her.

Bruna Alexandre gets ready to serve during the women's team Class 6-10 quarterfinal against Karolina Pek at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London, United Kingdom, on Sept. 5, 2012. Poland defeated Brazil 3-1. (Xinhua/Liu Siu Wai)

Alexandre took up table tennis at age seven. "There was a table tennis club beside my home. I took my brother there to try something, and the coach invited us to join in, so we just started [playing table tennis] like this," she recalled.

She became a table tennis player three years later, and left her home at age 15. "It was a little bit difficult for me to deal with everything alone, but I'm very grateful for everything that I've learned through this sport, and I learned how to be around people with other kinds of disabilities. I realized that what I have is just nothing different compared with what other people have," she noted.

"I prefer table tennis because it is more about logic. You have to think a lot, not just playing on the table," she explained. "Table tennis has a lot of strategies, not like playing fast all the time, and I try to play something different."

Empowered by table tennis, Alexandre says she doesn't feel any difference between herself and other people, and can function normally despite having only one arm.

"I don't even realize that I have disabilities. I just live my life like anyone with two arms. I have many friends and practice with people who cannot move or who can barely do something, I realize that even though I have one arm, I can do everything," she said confidently.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (2nd R) greets Bruna Alexandre (2nd L) during a meeting with medalists of the Santiago 2023 Pan American and Para Pan American Games in Brasilia, Brazil, December 19, 2023. (Xinhua/Lucio Tavora)

Having clinched one silver and two bronze medals at the Rio and Tokyo Paralympic Games, Alexandre is dreaming of a bigger stage - the Olympic Games.

Prior to the Busan table tennis team worlds, Brazil has already secured a spot at the Paris Olympics. Alexandre has not been confirmed in Brazil's Olympic squad, and says it will be up to the coach's decision over the next few months. "I will get prepared at the moment, and always try my best just like here," she noted. 

"She is a very strong woman. It's not easy to play with one arm and balance your body. She shows us that we should be grateful to everything that we have, like we are healthy and we can play. She inspires us to never give up in any situation," said her world No. 22 teammate Bruna Takahashi.

As the words on a tattoo on her left arm read: "If life is made of choices, choose to be strong."

Asked for her role model in table tennis, she said: "Myself," before bursting into laughter. 


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