Paralympics 2020. Karolina Pęk, a player from Bronowianka Kraków, appeared at the Paralympic Games for the third time. Nine years ago, she contributed to the first ever gold team table tennis at the Paralympics. In Tokyo she won two medals – gold in the team and bronze in the singles. But the fight for a place on the podium is not the only goal in her colorful life. She dreams of writing an autobiography, and one of her favorite books is the one about … Jakub Błaszczykowski.
– Hand disability does not bother me at all in my life. Once my mental preparation coach Antoni Mielecki asked me if I considered myself disabled. I replied that I did not. If he had not asked me this question, I would not have believed that I – assured us during the interview in 2018, the 20-year-old Karolina Pęk, a player from Bronowianka Krakow from the 2014/2015 season.
She was born – on February 8, 1998 in Nowa Dęba – with perinatal paralysis of the shoulder plexus in the right hand. Until she was six years old, she spent a lot of time in hospitals and clinics, she underwent four operations to improve the functionality of her hand. Until she was 15, she underwent rehabilitation every day.
– When I was younger, my problem was such simple activities as tying a shoelace or cutting a tuber. In primary school, other children were shocked by the appearance of my hand. At first I stood out from the group, I didn’t socialize. Then it changed. Of course, sometimes I hear a child who sees me on the street ask my mother, “why does this lady have such a crooked hand?”, but I only respond to it with a smile. I can handle anything. In the past, for example, I avoided cooking, but now that I live alone, I feel better and better in the kitchen – says Karolina. He drives a Volkswagen Golf 5, but would like to exchange it for another car.
He receives a scholarship from the Polish Table Tennis Federation (its amount depends on the results achieved), also grants from the foundation “Orlen – the gift of the heart” and assistance from Krakow City Hall. She is an ambassador for Krakow Sport because she was awarded the qualification for the project of the municipality and city of Krakow dedicated to outstanding athletes of this city, who with their successes promote them in the world. The Ministry of Sports and Tourism awarded her for medals won during two Paralympic Games. Despite such support, it is seeking sponsors.
She has lived in Tarnobrzeg since she was a child. Her parents, Maria and Jan, did not play sports. What is different about siblings 5 and 4 years older. Justyna and Krzysztof practiced weightlifting (my brother also won basketball earlier), won medals in the youth MP. Today Karolina’s sister lives with her mother in England, brother in Ireland and father in the USA.
However, Karolina began her adventure with sports, not with table tennis, but with soccer. She played in Siarka for three years. On the right wing. She was the only girl on the team. At that time she could already go to Krakow.
– In Krakow, my friend, a representative of Poland under the age of 16, played football. She came from Tarnobrzeg. She persuaded me to play in Krakow – she remembers.
In turn, the president of the Integration Sports Club Jezioro Tarnobrzeg, Rajmund Zięba, who lived close to the Pęk family, persuaded Karolina to play table tennis for a long time. Without effect. – I found this discipline terribly boring – admits today’s multimedia artist.
A coincidence helped with the change of discipline. She was 10 years old.
– Once I walked with my mother and my dog next to the room where the table tennis practice took place. My mother persuaded me to go there. I tried it. For several weeks I trained parallel football and table tennis. So I chose the latter – says Karolina, whose first coaches were Jerzy Baran and Jacek Lachor from IKS Jezioro.
He is still interested in football. She attends Wisła Kraków matches, has been to Arsenal and Chelsea stadiums and Wembley stadium and is a supporter of Real Madrid. But her greatest sporting love turned out to be table tennis.
He is already very successful. The most important thing is of course the four medals from the Paralympic Games. In 2012 in London she won bronze in the team, in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro for gold in the team and bronze in the single, and in Tokyo for gold in the team and bronze in the single.
In London she only played in the match against Brazil. She was only 14 years old then! Her friends lost to Turkey 2:3 in the semi-finals. They were separated from the final by two won balls … In the singles, Karolina failed to leave the group. She lost both matches 2:3.
In Rio de Janeiro, she played a Chinese woman in the semi-finals of the singles, who went on to win gold. In the fifth set, she led 9:5, but lost 9:11. – There was stress, the head decided on failure – admits.
In the fight for bronze, she met the Brazilian Danielle Rauen. She lost the first two sets 8:11 and 8:11. In the third she lost 2:6. And yet she won 11:9, then the next two, 11:5 and 11:5.
In the final of the team competition, she played Natalia Partyka, a four-time Paralympic singles champion (Athens, Beijing, London and Rio de Janeiro), with whom she once took a photo when she was just training. Partyka was an inspiration for Karolina, who dreamed of reaching her level.
Doubles Pęk – Partyka lost to the Chinese, then Partyka defeated his rival. The title was to be decided by the clash between Karolina and Leia Lina, 10 years her senior, with whom she had previously fought several defeated duels. She won it 3:1 and led 2:0.
– Back then I was so focused on the game that I did everything intuitively, I couldn’t see anything but the table. After the last point scored, I threw the racket on the table and ran to my friends, forgetting my feelings to thank my rival. I did after a while. The Chinek coach was so displeased with the defeat of his players that he quickly left the room – recalls Karolina, who contributed to the first Polish team’s gold table tennis ever in the Paralympic Games.
In addition to successes in London and Rio de Janeiro, he can boast of many others in the competition of disabled players. In 2018, at the World Championships in Lasko and Celje, Slovenia, she won a silver medal in singles. In the group she won with the Russian woman and her rival from Taipei with 3:0, in the quarter-final with the mentioned Rauen 3:1 and in the semi-final with the Chinese Meng Liu also 3:1. In the final, she lost to Kim Kun-Hea from South Korea 2:3 despite leading the set 2:0 and the match point.
She also won medals in the EC, among other things as Bronowianka player two in 2017 in Slovenia (silver in the singles and bronze in the team) and in 2019 in Sweden (silver in the singles and in the team). Previously, she won medals at the Polish Championships (including gold in singles and in the team) and European Championships in various age categories as a representative of IKS Tarnobrzeg.
In table tennis, the competition takes place in 11 classes: from 1st to 5th – for people in wheelchairs, from 6th to 10th – for standing people with arm or leg injuries, 11th – for people with intellectual disabilities.
Karolina plays in classes C 9 and C 10. She also competes successfully with non-handicapped players. Limitations for her – making it difficult to play with the latter – are associated with poorer motor coordination, problems maintaining stability and reaching the ball.
– It is the nuances that make the difference in the game with completely healthy opponents – he emphasizes.
He trains four or five times a week for an hour (motor lessons with trainer Paweł Oracz). He plays twice for 2.5 hours every day. He plays matches and tournaments on weekends. For two years, she has collaborated with the aforementioned personal trainer Oracz, as well as with mental trainer Antoni Mielecki.
– We talk, among other things, about my approach to training, control of emotions, strengths and weaknesses – he says.
She appreciates the places on the podium won in the competition for healthy table tennis players. He boasts a quarter-final in the singles at the Junior Championships (2013 Radomsko), silver in doubles at the Junior Championships (2015 Krakow), bronze in the team at the Junior Championships (2016 Ostróda), third place in the singles, doubles and team at the Youth Championships (2018 Ustrzyki Dolne) and silver in doubles in senior MP (2020 Białystok).
– I was most satisfied with the bronze medal in Ustrzyki Dolne, because it is my first individual medal in the competition with healthy players – he emphasizes.
She won the last six discs as a player in Bronowianka. Together with their club mates – Alicja Śliwa, Ewa Kołodziej, Alicja Łebek and Anna Zając – they promoted to the 1st league in 2014 (after winning the matches and tie-off against UKS Moszczenica).
In 2018, she spent a month at a Chinese training center in Zending, located approximately 350 km from Beijing. Her trainer Xu Kai, who used to train at this center, arranged for her departure. However, she covered the costs of flights and accommodation herself.
– In China, the training system is different than in Poland. The classes are more intense, great emphasis is placed on working with the speed of the legs. The Chinese train six hours a day. And so all year round. They only have days off on the last Sunday of each month. I had them too – in August. There are four rooms in the center. Two of them are trained by men, one by children aged 4-6 years and the other by women. There were 36 tables in my room. And everyone was busy. I learned a new approach to training there. Two years ago I also trained in China, but only for two weeks and less intensively – said Karolina, who won the singles tournament in Beijing after her stay in Zending.
He has many dreams and plans, not only related to sports.
– Two years after the Olympics in Tokyo, I would like to open a table tennis club and create a sports center for disabled children from all over Poland, so that they have the best conditions for training. There is a training center in Bronowianka, but I would like to arrange a similar center in my own way. I would like to become a trainer for people with disabilities, so I have to complete a dietician and personal trainer course – and set up a foundation that can help them – declares a graduate from the Gymnasiet in SMS.
After completing her career, she will travel around the world for a year. As a competitor, she has already been to many countries, including China, Brazil and Argentina, but has rarely had the opportunity to visit them. He will end his journey by writing a book about her.
– I love to write. At home I have several dozen books, mainly biographies of athletes. I really like the one about soccer player Jakub Błaszczykowski, written by him and Małgorzata Domagalik. That’s how I want to write. I am planning my own autobiography, of course only after my career ends, says Karolina.
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