Editor’s note: This article was originally published in May 2020. In 2021, Natalia Partyka is once again part of both the Olympics and Paralympics.

If you are just watching Natalia Partyka from afar, you won’t notice anything different. Her footwork is top-notch. Her backhand and forehand are fierce. Her reaction time is good. Her defence is solid. She looks and plays like a top table tennis player.

But then look a little closer and you realise just how impressive she truly is. As she prepares to serve, Partyka, who was born without a right forearm, carefully balances the ball at the end of her elbow before tossing in the air and onto her racquet.

Now 30, Partyka attracted the world’s attention during the London Olympics in 2012. By that point, she was already competing in her second Olympics but it was her skill and not her disability that made everyone sit up and take notice. It was also the first time she was taking part in the singles competition.

Partyka was eliminated by the Netherlands’ Jie Li in women’s singles Round of 32 in London. Let that sink in – yes, it wasn’t the podium, but being one of the top 32 women in the world in any field speaks of a level of excellence that is not easily found.

“For me, it (disability) is nothing,” she told reporters after losing her third round match to Netherlands’ Jie Li. “I am playing the same lines as the others. I am doing the same exercises.

“We have the same goals and the same dreams and I can play like them. I can serve and don’t have any problems.

“I get a bit bored about being asked about disability all the time.”

She is happy, however, if her achievements act as an inspiration to others.

“Maybe someone will see me and realise that their own disability is not the end of the world,” she said.

“Maybe someone will look at me and think they can achieve something bigger than they thought. Maybe sometimes you have to work a little bit harder if you really want to do something. If I’m an inspiration I can’t complain.”

The Polish table tennis star, though, is used to raising the bar.

At the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games, when only 11 years old, she was the youngest competitor on duty at the event as a whole, not only in the table tennis events.

Four years later in Athens, when 15 years old she won gold to become the youngest ever table tennis player to secure a Paralympic Games title.

She kept playing, she kept winning and she kept pushing herself to get even better. Starting with Athens in 2004, she has no less than five Paralympic Games gold medals to her credit.

In 2008, she also became one of only five athletes to ever participate in both the Paralympic and able-bodied summer games. More have followed in her wake, refusing to let a mere disability get the better of them.

Too often, people only see the hurdles. But Partyka only saw the possibilities and that allowed her to attain her highest ITTF ranking of 48 in singles.

“Everything about me is made of table tennis. The sport has taught me to ‘work hard,’ ‘never give up,’ and ‘always fight for my dreams’.”

And at the end of the day, that is what it comes down to. Are you prepared to truly fight for your dreams? For if you are, as Partyka has shown, nothing can stop you.

Natalia Partyka at Olympic Games

Year Location Singles Team
2021 Tokyo, JPN 2R 1R
2016 Rio de Janeiro, BRA - 1R
2012 London, GBR 3R 1R
2008 Beijing, CHN - 1R

Natalia Partyka at Paralympic Games

Rank Event Year Location
1 Singles - Class 10 2016 Rio de Janeiro, BRA
1 Team - Classes 6-10 2016 Rio de Janeiro, BRA
1 Singles - Class 10 2012 London, GBR
1 Singles - Class 10 2008 Beijing, CHN
1 Singles - Class 10 2004 Athens, GRE
2 Team - Classes 6-10 2008 Beijing, CHN
2 Team - Classes 6-10 2004 Athens, GRE
3 Team - Classes 6-10 2012 London, GBR
4 Team - Classes 6-10 2000 Sydney, NSW, AUS
5 Singles - Class 10 2000 Sydney, NSW, AUS