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I recently visited beautiful San Diego, California for a long weekend. With all the hustle and bustle of trying to fit in sightseeing, visiting with friends, and table tennis training (of course) into a four day adventure, I quickly discovered that it truly is "a small world".
A week before venturing out to California, I had the opportunity to train at the Newgy Table Tennis Training Center in Gallatin, Tennessee. On several occasions, I have trained at Newgy with my coach, Carl Hardin, USATT Assistant International Coach, Roger Dickson, Newgy’s Head Coach, and Joe Newgarden, President and Founder of Newgy Industries. After an outstanding weekend of training at Newgy, I mentioned to Roger that I would be traveling to San Diego for a long weekend and might try to visit the San Diego Table Tennis Club while there. Roger's eyes immediately lit up as he said, "You should definitely get in touch with Coach Barney Reed Sr., who lives in the San Diego area, for a coaching session". This all sounded great to me since I love to train, would definitely benefit from the training, and had heard great things about Barney Reed Sr., who had previously worked at Newgy with Roger. As I left for San Diego, never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine that when Roger contacted Barney Reed, Sr. to set up a training session, this trip would be one filled with so many surprises. The one thing I was sure of was that I would receive great training from Barney… what I did not expect were the people and legends I would meet along the way, as well as the huge coincidence and connection that would surface.
When I arrived at the San Diego Table Tennis Club early on Saturday morning, I was greeted by an extremely friendly Barney Reed, Sr. As we entered the club, I could immediately see that this is one of the finest table tennis facilities in the country. I anticipated a great training session with Barney, and he did not disappoint. In the two hour session we spent together, Barney was able to show me ways to improve my strokes, footwork, and body positioning which with practice, will elevate my game. He made the drills interesting, and he constantly challenged me while remaining extremely positive and maintaining a sense of humor. He never pushed me beyond my limits but I can tell you that during the drills, I felt muscles burning that I didn't know I had. I am now sure that I need to incorporate these additional skills into my game, so thank you Barney! I am truly grateful for Barney taking time out of his busy schedule to meet me and work with me on my game, and I look forward to training with him again in the future.
After Barney left, I struck up a conversation with a gentleman sitting on the bleachers who was watching his son play out on the court. He was extremely friendly and proceeded to proudly tell me about his son, who was about my age. He told me about how he and his son lived on Long Island, (which is where I grew up), and how his son is a tremendous table tennis player. He went on to tell me that his son became a sports psychiatrist, works with Olympic athletes, and just finished a book that was doing quite well. I asked him what his son's name was and he said "Michael Lardon", and then continued on with his story. I didn't want to be rude but I had to stop him and ask him to back up because I couldn't believe my ears when he said his name. I asked him to repeat his son's name and when he did, I said, "I just finished your son’s book, 'Finding Your Zone', and am reading it for the second time". What were the chances that I not only picked his book out of hundreds to read, but was also watching him play table tennis right in front of me?
In the two short years I have been playing table tennis, I have quickly learned that even more important than the physical side of the game, is the mental side. So, I searched for a book online that might help me improve mental toughness during competition. I came upon a book that looked very interesting called, "Finding Your Zone" by Michael Lardon, which I have enjoyed reading very much. I asked Mr. Lardon if he would consider introducing me to his son after he was done playing his match...he said "certainly". After Dr. Lardon finished his match, he came over, his father introduced me to him, and we had a very pleasant conversation. After speaking with him about his book, we realized we had more in common than me just reading his book. It turns out that we grew up about 15 minutes from each other on Long Island. I explained to him that back in the early 70's, for about 4-6 months, I played on a table tennis club at my high school with classmate Carl Danner, under the direction of his father, Fred Danner. Soon after, I became interested in team sports. When Carl, his dad and Michael Lardon went on to continue playing table tennis for the next three decades, I went on to play team sports, eventually playing on several world championship softball teams in the Cincinnati area… but that's another story. Dr. Lardon said, "Don't you remember me from playing table tennis on Long Island?" After I explained to him about the short period of time I played, he understood why I didn't remember him. I asked him if he would consider taking a picture with me, since I felt we had this connection, and he said “yes”. Before taking the picture, Dr. Lardon's father said, "Well, you will probably want this guy in the picture also", as he pointed to another gentleman standing close by. Of course I agreed and invited him over. The other gentleman came over to get in the picture and Dr. Lardon's dad said, "I’d like you to meet Stellan Bengtsson". I introduced myself to him, shook his hand, and then we took the greatest picture. It wasn't until Dr. Lardon, his dad, and Stellan Bengtsson left the club that I even realized that Stellan Bengtsson was the youngest World Champion from Sweden, at age 18, who had won 10 World Championships and 13 European Championships. What were the chances of getting to meet a table tennis legend!
So wait, the story gets better…
After finishing up this whirl wind trip to San Diego, I returned home to Cincinnati with some really great memories. Little did I know there would be even more to this story! Remember when I said that back in the early 70's I played this great sport of table tennis for a very brief period? Well, in that time, I managed to make my way into the one and only table tennis tournament I played in back then. The tournament was held at a local school on Long Island, with 160 players entered in it. I vaguely remembered that my mom had cut out an article from a local paper because I had won first place in the girl’s singles and kept it in a scrap book. I knew that Carl Danner, as well as his dad Fred Danner, were in the picture but there was just something drawing me back to that photo again. I looked and looked for the photo and when I finally found it, I had to sit down. Who, after all these years was also standing in that picture, RIGHT NEXT TO ME, on May 2nd, 1974, but Dr. Michael Lardon. WHAT WERE THE CHANCES? At around 15 years old, here we were standing right next to each other not knowing that 37 years later we would meet up again!
For those of you who don't know me, I have been playing softball for as long as some of you have been playing table tennis… about three decades. Due to some injuries, I had to retire from softball. I decided that in order to "stay in the game", I had to pick a sport that was safe, fun, challenging, familiar to me, and one that would take me well into my senior years. Well, I can tell you that I have found that sport. I have been playing for roughly two years and am having the time of my life. It has been a HUGE challenge but it has been worth it because I have met so many great people and made so many new friends along the way.
One of the really great things about this sport is that people are always friendly and willing to talk, even if they don't know you. Had I not sat down on the bleachers and struck up a conversation with Dr. Lardon's dad, I would have never known his son was there, met him, or had the great opportunity of meeting Stellan Bengtsson.
I wonder what other surprises and coincidences are waiting around the corner… I guess time will tell.
So, you see, it really is such a small world and you never know what opportunities are out there waiting for you. I went out to San Diego to catch up with old friends, do some sightseeing, and train with one of the best. As you can see, I came back with a whole lot more than I ever expected. It truly was an unbelievable experience… one I will not forget anytime soon!
Many people have supported me along the way and have helped me to this point. I would like to recognize them. I would like to thank my personal coach, Carl Hardin, who has spent countless hours helping me to develop a solid foundation with fundamentally sound strokes. I would not be where I am without you.
Thanks to the entire NEWGY Family and especially Mr. Joseph E. Newgarden, Jr., who has always stressed the importance of good sportsmanship, leadership, and above all, having fun. Thank you for your support and for believing in me; you are one of the most positive people I have ever met, and you continue to inspire me every day. I would also like to send out a huge thank you to Roger Dickson, who has also spent time coaching me, and helping me to improve my game. Without Roger's encouragement and getting in contact with Barney Reed Sr., none of this would have ever happened!