The light plock of a ping pong ball sailing from racket to racket echoes across the warehouse-turned-Olympic-regulated round robin.
Ahad Sarand uses his right hand to steady the grip of his wheelchair, gracefully maneuvering his body to anticipate the return from his opponent, Jane Lie, while his left hand grips a paddle, making Lie work for it.
Lie’s sneakers squeak across the linoleum while the fluorescent lighting reflects off the sweat gathering at Sarand’s temples. He propels his chair back and forth, side-to-side, before deftly bouncing a ball outside Lie’s reach.
Across the gym, members of the Columbus Table Tennis Club warm up before their weekly round-robin tournament begins. Columns draped with flags from around the world — from Sri Lanka to Sweden, Iran and so many more — divide each individual court.
“It’s a bit like the United Nations,” Lie, the president of the club, said.
The club has been around since the late 1950s, and now operates as a nonprofit organization open seven days a week, with roughly 80 members around Greater Columbus who are originally from 23 different countries.
Lie, 59, born in Indonesia and raised in Singapore, went to Ohio State University for his undergraduate degree and joined the club 34 years ago. But he’s been playing table tennis since he was 9 and has served as the club’s president for the past decade.
“The club,” he said, “belongs to the players.”
On a brisk December night, those players trade jabs, laughs and volleys in their club’s brightly lit gym on the East Side. They range in age from 17 to 84, and are comprised of immigrants and Columbus natives, novices and Paralympians.
Championing an underdog
Clad in a red, white and blue Team USA table tennis jersey, Sarand, a 56-year-old Iranian immigrant, is no stranger to defying expectations.
Paralyzed from the waist down at 2½ from polio, Sarand’s parents could only afford a portion of their son’s treatment. As a result, his left leg, three inches shorter than the right, never properly healed, leaving him with a limping gait.
Unable to play soccer while growing up in Tabriz, Iran, Sarand took to table tennis at a young age. A middle school coach recognized his talent and he joined his city’s para team, which catapulted him …….