30 January 2023

Bilateral amputee, 67, goes for gold after rediscovering love for table tennis

30 January 2023

A 67-year-old who rediscovered his passion for table tennis as a bilateral amputee has described his “unbelievable” journey as he aims to become a world champion.

Simon Heaps, from Milford on Sea, Hampshire, is a self-funded table tennis player and has raised more than £60,000 in an effort to compete in tournaments around the globe, sealing himself a top 30 spot on the International Table Tennis Federation’s Para World Rankings.

But Mr Heaps, who first picked up a bat aged eight, stopped playing at 32 and has only found success in the last four years playing in a wheelchair after losing both of his legs to long-term diabetes and artery problems.

After climbing his way up the rankings to become the 12th highest European in the para world rankings and 29th overall, he now relies on donations through GoFundMe to make it to the International Wheelchair Amputee Sports Federation World Games in Thailand this December, where he will make a bid to become world champion.

“It means so much to me,” Mr Heaps, formerly a co-owner of both a sports kit business and recycling company, told the PA news agency.

“I am disabled, there are lots of people that are a lot worse off than me, but if I can inspire others at my age to firstly keep healthy, and actually have an interest… I know for a fact, if it hadn’t been for table tennis, I’d be sat on a couch watching TV all day, every day.

“And without the help of everyone that’s gone through GoFundMe and the other charities, I wouldn’t have been able to do that.”

Mr Heaps lost his right leg in April 2019, and just six days after his left was amputated in May 2019 he was in a wheelchair playing table tennis.

He has raised more than £19,000 through donations from strangers to compete in Germany, Egypt, France, Jordan, Mexico, Italy, Argentina, and more, and has received funding through charities who also help pay for travel, coaching, training facilities, a wheelchair upgrade, and accommodation.

Along the way, he has won three gold medals, three silver medals and four bronze medals, and was crowned the first European Veterans’ Para Wheelchair Champion after winning gold at a tournament in Italy in June 2022.

“I’m a pensioner now,” Mr Heaps said.

“And you know, I have to rely on the state pension – I can’t afford to spend £2,500 to fly out for three or four days to Thailand to play table tennis.

What it's done for me, for my self-esteem and for my mental well-being has been unbelievable.

“But what it’s done for me, for my self-esteem and for my mental well-being has been unbelievable, and I couldn’t have done it without the financial support of everyone that’s donated, so massive thank you to everybody.”

But Mr Heaps maintained he still needs to raise more funds for a chance at seeing his dream of becoming world champion through at the end of the year.

“The GoFundMe page is really, really important,” he said.

“(The money) doesn’t go very far at all – so the response has been really good, but I still need more.”

And while Mr Heaps needs funding to keep his table tennis career afloat, he wanted to give back and raise money for a charity that helped him: Pilgrim Bandits, a small military charity that helps and supports servicemen and women who have been injured or wounded.

“I got put in touch with them and they helped me with my wheelchair,” Mr Heaps said.

“(So) two days after my 67th birthday, I did a 12,000-foot skydive with no legs.

“And I raised over £1,000 for them that I needed, but I wanted to do it for somebody else and I was so proud that I did it.”

He reflected on this time playing table tennis as a young man compared to as a 67-year-old.

“It’s crazy to even think that I wouldn’t have limbs, that’s the first thing,” Mr Heaps added.

“Crazy to think that I’d still be playing table tennis.

“But what’s really crazy (to think) is that I’d still be competing at a high level.

“They must know in para circles that, this guy here won loads of medals last year for Great Britain, he is 67, he’s still competing and he’s beating people that are 40 and 50 years younger than him.”

Mr Heaps also paid tribute to his wife and daughter, Pauline and Charlotte, who have helped him on his journey back into competitive table tennis.

“Not just physical support, but the verbal support and everything else you can’t do on your own,” he said.

“When I first came out of hospital (after) my first leg, my wife had to bathe me, dress me, you’ve got no balance.

“I couldn’t have done it.”

To find out more about Mr Heaps’ GoFundMe, go to: www.gofundme.com/f/fund-the-simon-heaps-wheelchair-tt-dream

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