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From being bullied to winning medals

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Eirunn has cerebral palsy. When Eirunn was a child she didn’t like physical activity. As an adult she won a silver medal in table tennis at the Paralympics.

Long inactive breaks at school. Bullying comments every time she tried to join the others. This was daily life for Eirunn Nesset Ellefsen, when she, as a child with cerebral palsy, had difficulties keeping up with the other kids in the schoolyard. Back then she didn’t like physical activity. She associated it with failure.

Eirunn was born with paralysis of the left side of her body. After many years of school, where physical activity meant bullying and low self-esteem, she started going to table tennis as a 16 year old. Here she soon discovered that she needed to do something about her poor balance if she wanted to succeed at playing table tennis.

”I was really motivated to do something that would improve my skills. So I started training 25-30 hours a week,” Eirunn says.

Two years later she was on the national disability team in table tennis.

”Don’t limit yourself”

During the years of 1980-88, she kept training 25-30 hours a week. And it paid off. In 1982 she won the World Para Championship in table tennis, in 1984 she won a silver medal at the Paralympics, and in 1986 she won the World Para Championship in table tennis one more time.

”I’ve always been the kind of person who does things out of defiance. I wasn’t going let myself be limited by the fact that I have cerebral palsy, ” says Eirunn.

Today Eirunn is educated as a sports teacher and social worker, and has a husband and two children. She still is determined to throw herself into activities she is motivated for. But there are also things she needs to remember and be aware of, now that she is 53 years old.

”You have to accept that you have cerebral palsy. If I want to do something, I do it. But I also have to take the consequences afterwards, if it is too strenuous,” she says.

The consequences of pushing yourself too hard can be fatigue and poorer concentration. Today Eirunn goes to therapeutic horseback riding, which helps her a lot.

”It gives me a sense of inner peace. And improves my balance, coordination and awareness of my core muscles. And it is a fun and social activity to be in the stable,” she explains.

You have to make mistakes

Eirunn knows exactly what she thinks is one of the most important things for a parent to think about, if they have a child with cerebral palsy.

”Let the children try things themselves. There are so many disabled children who are protected from making mistakes. But it is a natural process for all children to learn from their own experiences, and discover what they can and can’t do,” she says.

Through her work as a sports teacher for disabled children, as well as her own experiences of training as a child, Eirunn also has a clear opinion about rehabilitation. It should be fun.

”Start with what the children enjoy doing. That will make them train more. When I was a child, my training was boring, but when I started playing table tennis I was totally motivated. That is why I trained so much. That was the way I made it to the national team, she says.

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