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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Table Tennis Academic

I have commented on it a little on this blog, but I spent the 80's, 90's and 00's as a professional table tennis player. I started when I was 13, and at 16 I was living at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs as a resident athlete, and spent my 10th, 11th, and 12th grade years there. I saw all the biggest names come through the Olympic Training Center like Oscar De La Hoya, Roy Jones Jr, Grant Hill, Carl Lewis, George Hincapie, Shaq, Penny Hardaway, etc.

It was the first time in my life that the sport was approached from a scientific standpoint. I mean, to have weekly sport Psychology meetings and having your brain picked. To have someone find any insecurity about who you are on the inside and out. If you weren’t aware of it, then it would come out in the heat of competition. We had group sport Psychology with the entire team. And to have every ounce of your being broken down by your coaches, teammates, and therapist was an eye opening experience to have at 17 years old. What you learn how to do is to deal with yourself on every level. Having 18 people every week look at you from an Emotionally, Mentally, Spiritually, and competitively aspect brings your very being into focus.

That laid the foundation for success, and I went on to win every single title that was possible except making the Olympic Team. I won junior titles, state titles, team titles, and I'm 3 time Collegiate Champion. I even went undefeated in Florida competition from 1996-2001, and no other player has gone more than 6 months without being undefeated since then.

My career was not without serious road blocks. I did not win a competition from 1990 to 1996, and during that time I lost most of my peers because they could not handle that period of self-doubt. Imagine competing 2 weekends a month for 1 year, and losing 1st or 2nd round, every time. To break into that top 10 in the US is like a special fraternity, and they were not going to let you in. You had to come busting through the door. During my years of losing, my Chinese coach Xin Peng would always say, “ A lost is a mother of a win”. So I spent 6 years being pregnant. That is 6 years of losing every 2 weeks. When you add up having a losing record 26 weeks out of the year for 6 years, you either build determination, or you fold. Character is a coming!

In 1996, I came down to Sunrise FL and won my first tournament in 6 years. Did I get an ego, and get all full of myself. Hell No, I went back to Maryland and look at the trophy for 2 weeks. I didn’t deposit the prize money in my back account for 1 month. I wanted to cherish that moment. But what I had just done was I had “Given Birth” to being the “Ultimate Competitor”. I had that extra gear now, and I could shift into it and win. Plus, I had accepted that the battle would be intense, and I accepted that. All of those years of going 0-26 had paid off with just one win. Two months later I had another tournament win, and before the year was out I had won 3 more tournaments. So I had a 5-21 record, and I was jumping up and down. And 1997 was an even better year with me winning 10 tournaments. 1998 was the same as I added 2 more than the year before in winning 12. Now, I was breaking about even and was officially in the “ Fraternity of the Elite”.

It would be 1999 as the real turning point. The Olympic Committee got involved with General Motors in a program called “Team behind the Team”. General Motors were to donate 100 GM vehicles to 100 of the “Most Improved” athletes that were competing in Olympic Sports. I initially rejected filling out the paper work because I really didn’t think I had a chance, but one of the people on the panel called me and said I just had to submit a letter stating how having the car would benefit my training, and lifestyle. That was June of 1999, and the lady said if you get a letter from us in November, then you have a car. I honestly forgot about the paperwork, and I went on to have the best year ever I my career. I went 19-6, with a collegiate title to boot. My table tennis sponsor recognized my obvious jump in level, and gave me a racket deal and the “Brian Pace “ table tennis racket is sold in all Sporting Good Stores in the country. It is the best selling racket at the $40-$50.00 range in the country since 1999. My mother has had bragging rights for almost 9 years with all her best friends.

Well Thanksgiving weekend is a big competition in Baltimore every year, and the President of the Association came up to me in front of everyone and whispered, “Call me when you get back to South Florida”. “Shit”, I thought. What in the world have I done? So for the next couple of hours I brainstormed what kind of conversation I could have the President of the Federation and why. I couldn’t think of anything, so I let it go. I got home that night, and when I checked the mail, I saw it. An 8 by 11 Envelope sized letter from the Olympic Committee and General Motors. I immediately dropped it on the ground and stared at it.

I’m having another one of those surreal moments like when I won my first tournament after 6 years of losing, so I just sit it on the kitchen table and look at it to 2 hours. My girlfriend (That is a pro table tennis player also) at the time comes over and I explain it to her, and just rips it open and starts reading.

It says “Congratulation”, you have been chosen as one of the GM Team behind the Team athletes”. You have been awarded a General Motors Saturn SL2 outright, and I just about lost it. If you have not taken a Business Law class, then “Outright “ is the term that means you don’t pay for anything. The Olympic Committee and GM were giving me a car and paying for the taxes for me to own it. I read the paperwork 10 times to be sure. Yeap! I had arrived, and having this car was one of those moments I will never forget. Did I get an ego about it? Hell No! I went back and reflected on those 6 years of my losses being a mother of a win. If you don’t understand that Chinese saying, it means that after losing, and losing, and losing, you finally give birth to winning. To me it was giving birth the being the “Ultimate Athlete”. If I think I have the talent, then I’ll take the challenge.

I walked into the Saturn Dealership and said,"My name is Brian Pace", and just about every employee in the building came out of their offices to see me get the car. A man handled me the keys, and said, "Good Luck at the Olympics". No signing paperwork, no credit checks, etc. Just have a great day. I was back home in 15 minutes and my best friend and teammate thought it was a joke, until I pressed the Alarm button from in the apartment.

All of my peers that quit from 1990-1996 all admired one thing about me, my determination. I was NOT going to let anyone or anything stop me from achieving that dream that I had. It was to be a “Athlete” at the top level. In 1984, when I saw Carl Lewis running around the track at the LA Olympics draped in the American Flag, I said, “ I’m going to be athlete”. No different than how a kid dreams to be a Doctor, or Astronaut. But I was not dreaming, as I could see the path. It took me 2 years to weed through all the sports, and then table tennis found me. That is another post that I’m working and will post it next week. I’m not concerned about how rough the road was, because that is what builds character. The main thing was what does the road do to you in the process. Does it make you look at life from a positive perspective? Does it make you look at life from a winning perspective?

I didn’t let having the car change anything about my attitude at all. I kept going on as if I could wake up out of this dream any minute and I would be screaming to the Devil, “You bastard, you have played a nasty trick on me”. I didn’t make the 2000 Olympic Team, but I still had an awesome year. It was the year I started mtn biking, and I won the 25-29 Beginner Category, and was Voted Most Improved Athlete. My first race was at Hard Rock the year before, and I finished 20th, and I came back the next year and won the entire series.

But in 2001, it happened. I lost in a Florida competition, but it was to a peer of mine. He had been living and competing in Sweden for 4 years, and had finally gotten good enough to beat me. Was I shattered? Hell No, I was not at all. I didn't look at those 6 years of winning as a real goal of mine, it just manifested on it's own. So I picked myself back up, put everything I owmed in a Storage Unit, and moved to Europe.

Did I go to one of the civilized countries? Yeap? Did it work for me? Nope. So I chose Romania to do my training and competing in. Why? It reminded me of Rocky IV when he was in Russia. The place was third-world and I loved it. The people were simple, and all I had to do was train, eat, and sleep. The reason I wanted this experience was because I wanted to move on with my life, but I had to go to the Mecca. I had to compete and live in Europe before I could cap off my career. Training 6 hours a day was another rude awakening for me, but it only took about 6 weeks to be able to handle that workload with out going nuts. I competed in German, Sweden, Austria, Poland, Bulgaria, Moldovia, and Denmark to name a few.

From 2001-2004, I did not pick up a mtn or road bike. I just ate, slept, and drank table tennis. I spent 9 months out of the year living in Romania getting ready for 1 event. The 2004 Olympic Trials for the Athens Games, and I went into the Trials in the best form of my life. I had beaten 8 of the top 10 players in the country in the last year so I knew I could do it. But the top 4 guys were head and shoulders above everyone, and I finished 11th in the Trials. It was my best performance to date, and I announced my retirement after my last match. Most players can’t take the allure of retiring at that level, and not coming back. But I knew I was on to something else. All my peers have bet there life I would be back, and I have not been back since.

I can honestly say that I’m fulfilled and enriched by my experience in table tennis. I started in 1986, was a pro in 1990 at 18, and had a 14 year career that I cut short. Why? Most athlete retire when they have obviously lost there skill level, and I didn’t want that to be me. The way I’m thinking is the “Athlete Gods” gave me this gift, and it took me 6 long, hard year of losing to find it. I better play it out as long as I can, then hang it up before I psst off the Gods and they take it back from me.

So now, it’s 2004, I’m a retired pro looking for another competitive fix. I bought a Santa Cruz Superlight, and 2 weeks later I was racing Beginner 30-39. I won 10 races, and went to Sport in the Summer of 04. In the State Series in 2004 I finished 4th in Sport 30-39, and since 2005 I have been an Expert and I’m in my third year of competing at that level.

I still play table tennis every week, and I give private lessons. I have been working on an Instructional DVD, and I have 16 sound bytes I have created. I’m tight lipped about it because if I let it out too early, somebody is going to copy it. Here is a clip from the ‘Online’ Series.



Here is a clip of some highlights from a 2003 competition.



What is my agenda now? I can honestly say that I don’t have one. The agenda is going to find me, but in the meantime why I’m losing by 6 minutes, or 10 minutes, I’m having fun. For what I have experience in my career, I’m not scared of the top Experts. I have been beaten so bad many times in my career from different players all over the world, that what will happen to be in an Expert race can't hurt my confidence one bit. I'm actually enjoying the process of graduating into that top Fraternity of riders, and I’m in no rush, or insecure about my results at this time. If you have talent, you must have just as much patient. Almost every athlete I know in table tennis or mtn or road biking have quit early in their career, because they didn't match their talent with their patient. Only later to make a comeback, but those precious years have already been lost. I can say I have never done that, because I can say I was having fun during the rough time. And that is what I’m doing now, I’m just having fun. It’s serious fun, but fun none the less. Because I know that all loses right now, are mothers of my wins in the future.

So when I look at the talented riders like Ryan W., Reagan W., Martin C., Brent, and Victor A. I just say, pack your bags and go to the Mecca. Go to a place that you are the small fish, and turn your self into a Giant. Stop wasting your time dropping riders that you know you are stronger than anyway. Get pushed to the highest level, go through your period of questioning yourself, and don’t let anyone or anything stop you from achieving what you have envisioned for yourself.

Go get it!

Pacer Out!

2 Comments:

Anonymous Eddie O said...

That was beautiful. You are true champion.

Eddie O

October 12, 2007 at 2:18 PM

 
Blogger Speed Pacer said...

Eddie

Thank you, I appreciate that, especially coming from somebody like you.

Take care, buddy

Brian

October 13, 2007 at 7:36 PM

 

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