WILL BAYLEY

Man of the MATCH

THIS MONTH SEES THE SO LIFESTYLE AWARDS TAKE PLACE, SO AHEAD OF THE NIGHT WE CAUGHT UP WITH OUR INSPIRATIONAL SPEAKER AND GOLD-MEDAL WINNING TABLE TENNIS PLAYER WILL BAYLEY TO FIND OUT MORE ABOUT HIS COMPETITIVE STREAK, AND WHY HE HAS A NEWFOUND APPRECIATION FOR H IS PARENTS…

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What would your alternative career have been if you hadn’t got into table tennis?
Acting! I was quite a show-off as a child, and I think this helped me cope very well with my disability. At the age of 16, I won a place at the BRIT school of performing arts. I spent two years there but when London won its bid to hold the 2012 Olympic & Paralympic games, I knew that I had to be a part of it. Therefore my acting career was put on hold and table tennis became my full time profession.

How often do you have to train, and what does your training involve?
I train six hours a day, five days per week at least. This includes exercises at the gym and on the table. Then there’s serve practice an hour per day, practice against team mates and multi-ball with my coach…

Wow. Are you competitive in all aspects of your life, or just when you’re playing table tennis?
Not in everything, but anything to do with sport, board games or computers, I am!

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given, and who gave you it?
“Top of the bounce” from Gary Howes. Any table tennis player will understand this; it was drilled into me in the early days, time and time again by Gary, who was my first coach at Byng Hall Table Tennis Club in Tunbridge Wells.

You grew up locally, what did you most enjoy about the local area?
The sporting opportunities. That was my main focus as a child.

Where are your favourite places in and around Tunbridge Wells to visit when you’re in the area?
The Pantiles for its laid back atmosphere, just sitting there watching the world go by, and Byng Hall Table Tennis Club – I often drop in there when I am back in the area. I love surprising the kids at the club and hopefully motivating them to aim high and believe in themselves.

You’ve travelled all over the world for your career – where’s the best place you’ve visited and why?
Lignano, Italy for its stunning scenery and food. When I travel for competitions my only focus is the tournament, so I’ve probably missed out on seeing some amazing places. I guess anyone that travels for business will tell you the same – it’s all hotel and meeting rooms. For me, hotel rooms and table tennis tables!

Your amazing career achievements include winning Gold in Rio in 2016 – do you have any goals you’ve yet to complete?
Winning gold for a second time in the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic games!

You’ve faced a lot of challenges in your life, what helps you to stay strong?
I think it’s my hunger to win and be the best at what I do. I recently had major surgery on my eyes; thankfully my focus was purely on getting back to training rather than dwelling on the severity of the operation. I think the doctors thought I was being flippant. This is never the case but having this attitude keeps me strong.

What’s your proudest moment so far?
Becoming a father and winning gold in Rio 2016.

How are you finding parenthood?
I am loving it of course, but I do have a newfound respect for my parents now. It is hard hard work!

What does the year ahead have in store for you, both professionally and personally?
Professionally, the world championships in Slovenia. Personally, just to be a great dad and to try and strike a balance between my professional and personal life…don’t we all say that!?

What are you looking forward to about being the inspirational speaker at the So Lifestyle Awards?
I am looking forward to meeting some of the inspiring characters of Tunbridge Wells and sharing my story with them. I hope if there’s anyone sitting in the audience who is perhaps struggling with any challenges, they will find some kind of inspiration and hope through my story.

The So Lifestyle Awards take place on February 8 at Trinity in Tunbridge Wells. To book tickets and to find out more about the night, visit www.solifestyleawards.co.uk