RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – At 59 years of age, Stephanie Chan is one of the oldest members of Team Canada’s 2016 Paralympic squad – though you’d never know it by talking to her.
A resident of Richmond, B.C., Chan is competing in the Games for the very first time, after starting her journey into organized para-table tennis at the tender age of 44.
Ranked 10th in the world coming into the Paralympics for her particular class, she is often competing against athletes who are half her age or less. Chan doesn’t let that bother her, far from it – she embraces it.
“I’m a woman, they are young girls,” said Chan, after her semi-final loss on Sunday at Rio Centro. “I’m like their moms.”
Playing against younger competitors reminds her of family who made the trip to Brazil. Chan’s son and sister-in-law are both here, holding Canada flags aloft in the stands, and making their presence known.
“Every day, they cheer me up,” she said. “My sister, she came from Hong Kong, and my son, he came from Vancouver.”
With the loss to the No. 1 ranked Kelly Van Zon, from the Netherlands, she isn’t letting that get to her, either – there is still a possibility incoming with the bronze medal match, scheduled for Tuesday.
“I will do my best to bring a medal to Canada,” Chan said. “This is the first time I’ve had this chance. I want to do it.”
Her coach, John MacPherson – a former Paralympian who competed at the 2000 Sydney Games – has absolute confidence in her, with the medal match looming. There are no other athletes competing at this level for Canada, something the coach is acutely aware of.
“She knows the moment she’s in,” said MacPherson, who was coaching Chan on from the sidelines. “This may be the only chance for a medal in her career, or table tennis in terms of para-movement in an awfully long period of time.
“She’s not going to let that get away from her in terms of medal preparation at all.”
Chan’s forward outlook keeps pressing on, all the way to the 2020 Games in Japan.
“I will keep going,” said the Hong Kong native. “I think I can do it; I will go to Tokyo.”
After hearing that Chan is already setting her sights on Japan, MacPherson let out a huge laugh, nodding vigorously; he’s clearly heard it already.
“I know she is, which means she wants me to go with her in 2020,” said the coach. “I’m in Nova Scotia, she’s in Richmond B.C., so we’re not exactly closely connected. But we’ve been doing this for over 10 years together, so we’ll see how it goes.”
When presented with her age at that time – 63 years old – she shrugged it off.
“Oh, never mind,” said a laughing Chan. “Do I seem old? It doesn’t really matter. I will keep on going, I like playing table tennis a lot.”