“Table tennis is a great therapy for Parkinson’s”

Javier Perez de Albeniz (Madrid, 1960) quotes AS in the garden of the National Museum of Natural Sciences. It is not by chance, since as he tells in his last book (The Setbacks, editorial Libros del KO), is his favorite corner of Madrid. With a multitude of publications behind him, this journalist would never “have imagined” that one day he would sign one with two elements like those that have marked his recent life: the parkinsonthe disease that was diagnosed in 2015, and the table tennisthe sport that has helped him cope with it and in which he has become world runner-up for people with this ailment.

You didn’t want to write a self-help book.

Yeah, I didn’t want to write anything like that. It is not a book that contributes something to me. I am a journalist, I look for good stories and this is one… that catches me very closely.

One about Parkinson’s disease and table tennis. Where is the relationship?

The main one is that this sport has a lot of therapy, very good and positive. With many benefits for this problem. That I found by chance and then I discovered that many people with this disease practice.

To the point of competing internationally?

It hooks a lot. It is a very complete and complex sport. Very bloody too, with many ups and downs. In the first tournament I played, my opponent quickly figured out that I was a ‘whisper’. And over time I saw myself at a world championship in Berlin, with my wife and daughter in the stands, the pavilion full of people… I thought I would take it worse. I was nervous, but I liked it.

How is the rivalry in a tournament for people with Parkinson’s?

One of the keys is that this sport forces you to socialize, to leave the house… Now I am going to attend a concentration that helps a lot with that. Regarding the rivalry, at first it was difficult for me to face, for example, people who seemed to have more serious problems than me… I did not understand the competition. They told me that’s not how life is. If you have someone superior, find a way to play him well. In tournaments we all go to death.

Pérez de Albéniz, at the German Open.
Pérez de Albéniz, at the German Open.

Has this competitiveness helped you to face the disease?

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No. I like winning, but I don’t mind losing. There are much more competitive people.

Well, among the multiple references to other sports that he makes in the book, he twice mentions the soccer coach, Carlos Bilardo.

Yes, but I don’t want to look like him. I liked to see him train, his tension, how he pressed… I like Argentine coaches. I’m from Atleti!

He also names Agassi, to talk about the hardness of the high level… but instead, with the figures of table tennis, everything is perfection and aesthetics.

Well, I will do it unconsciously (laughs). I look at Ma Long’s game (Chinese Olympic and world champion) and it amazes me, that’s not why I’m ignoring all the hard work behind it.

Javier Pérez de Albéniz, in the garden of the National Museum of Natural Sciences.
Javier Pérez de Albéniz, in the garden of the National Museum of Natural Sciences.CHEMA DIAZACE DAILY

His story has a clear soundtrack. From Sam Cooke in delicate moments, to garage from Detroit to struggle with physical limitations.

At first I didn’t think about music. Just telling the story. But I wanted to talk about songs I was listening to at that time, which were relevant… Music is also very good for me with Parkinson’s. I do not conceive life without music.

How many times have you found yourself ‘Googling’ about your illness?

I’ve seen a lot of people do it, get involved with so much overload of information… and I decided not to do it. I have been lucky enough to find a medical team at the La Princesa Hospital that I fully trust, and I did not want to be such a fool as to screw up.

In fact, now he also collaborates with them.

Yes, since I contacted the Spanish Table Tennis Federation, they have not only helped me… but they have given us a table for the hospital, to carry out a program that can help other patients.

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