WILL BAYLEY MBE - Every Hurdle Is An Opportunity
WILL BAYLEY MBE
In January 2017 Will was awarded an MBE for services for Table Tennis; as a result he joins a small group of individuals recognised for dedicating a significant proportion of their lives to promoting, developing, supporting and playing Table Tennis.
Will's journey began in Poole in Dorest, and in the winter of 1988, Will's parents were trying to understand a new word "Arthrogyposis".
[AR-THROW-GRY-PO-SIS] is a big word for a small baby but it’s one that Will Bayley would become familiar with from a very early age. William John Bayley was born in January 1988 in Poole, Dorset. and even before he was born, Will’s parents already knew their baby would be born with arthrogryposis, a rare congenital disorder that was to affect all four of his limbs.
Will with his Gran who would buy him his first table tennis table...
Will’s feet were splinted from birth and at three months old Will underwent his first major operation, which was to see him in plaster for several months. Many more reconstruction operations were to follow at Great Ormond Street Hospital (
), under the direction of the late
, a world renowned paediatric orthopaedic surgeon.
By the age of three, and with the aid of magic Pedro boots and a frame, Will was, at last, able to walk. During these early years Will was always happy, but also full of courage and determination, as he faced numerous operations on his limbs. The family moved to Groombridge, in Kent, in 1993 and both Will and his brother joined the local primary school - St Thomas’.
THE C WORD
At the age of seven, Will became unwell and was diagnosed with
, a cancer of the lymphatic system, and began a six-month course of chemotherapy at the now very familiar Great Ormond Street Hospital. Treatments for lymphoma were under development at that time, and Will was one of just ten children enrolled onto a clinical trial for the now commonly used chemotherapy agent, vincristine.
Will back in Great Ormond Street
Will with his Mum and Gran - his medication was starting to effect his weight
Unable to play any contact sport due to his ‘Hickman line’, which was used to administer his chemotherapy, Will’s Grandmother bought him a table tennis table. Quickly Will discovered he was quite good at table tennis and it was the one sport at which he could beat his older brother. At the age of 11, Will joined
Byng Hall Table Tennis Club
in Tunbridge Wells where he continued to improve through his dedication to training and gaining match practice by entering competitions each week. By the age of 16 Will was representing Kent men’s team of able-bodied players, in the Kent league, as his table tennis continued from strength to strength.
Will front and center playing for Byng Hall
Will at the start of his senior career
Will currently trains at the English Institute for Sport (EIS) in Sheffield. As well as the challenging training regime needed to maintain his status as a world class Paralympic athlete, Will spends much of his spare time working both locally and nationally in providing motivational speaking for sports and industries as well as
presenting in schools, and
supporting a number of charitable concerns. In addition he acts as an ambassador for a number of organisations including The Commonwealth Games 2018, Kent Sports Trust and Pepenbury. He is also keen to promote awareness of his own condition, arthrogryposis
THE WORLD’S A STAGE...
After leaving school, Will was awarded a place at
The BRIT School for Performing Arts
, Croydon, to embark upon a Theatre Studies course. He continued to train in the evenings at Byng Hall TTC and take part in table tennis competitions at the weekend and it was during this time that he met fellow Paralympic table tennis player, Joe Stotesbury.
Both Will and Joe soon moved to Bristol to continue their studies and, more importantly, to train at the Felton Table Tennis Academy in Bristol where Will spent the next two years before moving to Sheffield.
Will’s table tennis had improved to a point where he was not only playing in national competitions but also in international competitions. WIll fondly remembers his first international medal in the US in the 2006 “This was a very special competition for me. To win my first medal internationally made me feel fantastic. I felt like one of my dreams had been realised”.
Will, far right, winning his first international medal in the USA
WELCOME TO YOUR NEW CLASS
The impact of Arthrogryposis on all four of Will’s limbs meant that he was originally assessed as Class 6, where Classes 6-10 are for non-wheelchair athletes. As a class 6 player Will had reached No 5 in the world rankings, and consequently Will joined the British Paralympic team that would be heading to Beijing for the Paralympics in 2008.
However, just before the Games started he was re-classified to Class 7 for more able bodied athletes. His ranking immediately dropped from No 5 in the world to No 43. As a result Will’s dream of winning a Paralympic gold medal evaporated.
But China's love of table tennis had an impact on Will - "What an experience, 10,000 people watching every single match . The loudest most passionate crowd I've ever played against." In fact Will was to return to China, alone, after the excitement of the Paralympics had faded to develop his skills and game play.
Often, reclassification of Paralympic athletes can have a significant impact on the athlete’s ability to compete and it’s a tribute to Will’s determination that he decided he would simply become Paralympic champion in his new class. It would not be an easy journey though, it would take Will another 8 years to fulfill that dream.
The London 2012 Paralympics are memorable for many reasons, and no less so for Will, who felt that his time had come. Where better to seal his place in Table Tennis Paralympic history than at his home games in London.
“Going in as World No 2 was good for me. I felt I had a strong season but I knew I was going to be better than ever in London. I felt I had trained harder than anyone in my class around the world. I was prepared to die for the cause. It was my dream to play in the Paralympics in front of a home crowd.”
Of course it was not to be, Will’s exuberant celebrations in the semi-final were matched by the devastation of the loss in the final. But Will’s memories on London 2012 reflect his character, “London will always be remembered as the best Paralympics I've ever taken part in”. Consequently, after London 2012, Will would pick himself up, brush himself down, and focus on improving his game so he could not only compete in Rio 2016 but also win!
London 2012 - Winning the semi final...
but losing the final
THE ROAD TO RIO
Will’s victory in Rio, had begun 4 years earlier following his defeat in London in 2012; and the journey was to be as eventful as any in Will’s career. A silver in the European championships in 2013 was to prove a stepping stone to a much more significant result. It was perhaps fitting, following his positive experiences at the Beijing Paralympics, that in 2014 Will secured Class 7 Gold in the World Championships in China. Will understood the significance - “This was without doubt the greatest achievement of my career to date”.
However 2015 would see the rollercoaster journey change direction again with no individual golds in any major competitions that year and some of Will’s competitors were scenting blood. Following another silver, Will remembers a rival informing him “that he would kill me in Rio the following year, he was too good for me.” In the end, however, it would be Will's determination and courage, not a competitor's killer instinct that would triumph at the Paralympics the following year.
AN ALL ROUND SPORTSMAN
Even before his stunning victory at the Paralympics in Rio 2016, Will was much sought after for his inspirational speaking and ambassadorial roles. He actively supports a number of sporting and community projects including Kent Sports Trust, Pepenbury and Disability Sports Coaching. In addition his motivational speaking to schools and industry are always in demand and he continues to inspire players of all ages to play, enjoy and ultimately win at Table Tennis; a sport that has dominated his life, but one that he continues to love playing!
Kent Sports Trust Foundation
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