When a train ran over Ibrahim Hamadtou he lost both of his arms. However, the then 10 year-old did not let this disadvantage stop him from becoming a table tennis champion.
“I was standing at the door of the train [and] I fell in the gap between the train and the pavement,” he said according to News Limited. “When I woke up from the coma, I found that both [of] my arms were amputated.”
The future Egyptian Paralympian initially felt ashamed of his disability, and did not want anyone’s pity or sorrow.
“After I got discharged from the hospital I did not leave the house for a whole year, except for very late at night,” he said according to the media outlet. “I did not like to see the looks of pity and sympathy on people’s faces.”
Hamadtou decided he could still make a valuable contribution to society, and began considering a career in competitive sports. Only two possibilities were available to him in the village of Kafr Saad El-Balad in Damietta: football or table tennis.
“That first year was really difficult for me,” he said. “After the accident, I tried to play soccer [and] I used to run around with my friends but I frequently got injured, because I had no balance. It was when I went to the local youth centre that table tennis caught my eye.”
The Paralympian began competing when he was 15 years-old.
“The first thing I tried was holding the paddle under my armpit but I failed,” he said. “I tried this once, twice then the third time, I held the paddle between my teeth for a few moments. Then I thought, ‘Why don’t I try playing with my mouth?'”
The following day at 7 a.m. he began practising this technique at the local youth centre.
“That is where it all began,” he said.
It took years before the athlete mastered this grip since the bat handle would often be torn, even though it was covered in several layers of tape.
“It is not easy at all,” he recalled. “I need to strengthen my legs constantly, because I rely on my legs more than any other player. My neck [also] needs to be strengthened constantly, the same goes for my teeth. The paddle should not move at all between my teeth because if it does, I lose everything.”
Hamadtou learned to curl his toes around the ball, toss it in the air, and strike it with his bat. For this reason, he only wears one shoe when he competes.
After 28 years of practice, he finished second at the 2016 African Championships and competed in the Rio de Janeiro Paralympic Games.
International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) footage shows the Paralympian powerfully belting balls. The 48 year-old rose to fame after the video attracted 3.3 million online views. This earned him the nickname of Mr. Impossible.
“I feel really happy playing table tennis,” he said according to the ITTF website. “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 revealed his biggest hurdle was not physical at all, it was psychological.
“The disability is not in arms or legs, the disability is to not persevere in whatever you would like to do,” he said according to the ITTF website.
He will compete for one last time at the Tokyo Paralympics.
“I keep telling myself, ‘Tokyo is the goal,'” he said according to the publication. “It will be a good end to my sports career.”