Talented Welsh teenager Grace Williams is being promoted from the British Para Table Tennis Team’s Pathway Squad to Confirmation, the transition programme between Pathway to Performance. Although still under the guidance of Pathway manager Shaun Marples and Pathway coach Matjaz Sercer, the 19-year-old from Wrexham will receive a UK Sport Athlete Performance Award (APA) and will have all the benefits of a Performance athlete with access to the English Institute of Sport support services including physio, strength and conditioning, lifestyle management and analysis.
The 19-year-old from Wrexham has come a long way since she first started playing at the age of 12 during a disability sports day. Although not previously interested in sport she fell in love with table tennis and from playing once a week at her local club she graduated to the BPTT Pathway Squad in 2019, making her international debut in the Dutch Open that same year.
“Sport hadn’t appealed to me before,” she explained, “probably because when I was in primary school and year seven it was always netball, and I couldn’t throw a ball as well as everyone else and so I felt like an outsider. With table tennis I felt that I could do it and if I worked hard I could get better.”
In September last year Williams moved to Sheffield where she now combines studying nutrition at university with training with the BPTT Performance Squad at the EIS.
“I’ve definitely grown as a player and a person since I moved to Sheffield,” she said. “I’ve learned different aspects of my game and ways to help my game. I’ve also learned how to balance life – training, social life and university.
“Training with the squad gives me motivation because when I watch Ross (Wilson) or Will (Bayley) or Fliss (Pickard) it helps me in that situation because I want to be where they are. To see how they conduct themselves in training and in tournaments it just shows me how I can conduct myself and how to train. They put 110% effort into every training session and that motivates me to do the same.”
Commenting on the decision to promote Williams, Marples said: “Grace has been fantastic over this past year, moving from home to do her studies in Sheffield and combine this with training on a weekly basis. She’s developed as we would like her to and we look forward to seeing her progress in the future through to the Performance programme. She has a tournament in Montenegro coming up and the European Para Youth Games in Finland to look forward to and we are hoping that she will get a wildcard to represent Wales in the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham. With the new doubles format replacing team events she is learning a lot playing with Fliss Pickard in the women’s doubles and with Ross Wilson and Joshua Stacey in the mixed doubles and it is going to be exciting to watch these partnerships develop for future Paralympic Games.”
Williams played team events with Pickard last year and the pair are already developing a promising doubles partnership, taking bronze in the Costa Brava Spanish Open in March.
“I’m learning a lot from playing doubles with different people,” she said. “Everyone is different in how they conduct themselves on the table and how they play different shots, so it is good to get different perspectives on the same game. I loved having the insights that Ross and Fliss both had when we were playing. The debrief after every game, practicing before every game and how they worked - I learned from them and also from the environment.”
Although in the early stages of her career Williams has no doubt where she wants to go.
“I’m at the start of my career but I’d love to go to a Paralympic Games – whether that is Paris or Los Angeles - and I’d love to medal. I want to win gold and that is my end goal, but I also want to go to the Commonwealths this year and the Worlds and all the major tournaments.
“I love that I am representing my country and my nation and I think it is the best honour that someone can have – to represent your country and wear your country’s colours. It felt so surreal in my first tournament and when I put on my shirt and it’s got my name on the back and my country, I love it.
“When I started playing table tennis I just thought it would be something fun to do with my family. I was 12 years old and playing once a week at a small club and I never thought I would get to this stage where I could dream of going to a Paralympic Games.”