First published January 2021

Growing up, I wanted to play for Liverpool; to be the next Steven Gerrard. I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t able to run as fast as the other kids. I was 10 years old, but I was frustrated with life.

I was brought up in a deprived area of Liverpool. Nearby, there was a youth club – I would go twice a week, get an evening meal there, and there was a sports hall where we would play a bit of football. I was born with cerebral palsy, but I could walk and run around a bit then.

They had a table tennis table in there too. And Geraldine - a volunteer who took me under her wing, played table tennis with me and encouraged the passion that she could see developing within me. I quickly caught the table tennis bug.

Jack following his selection for Rio 2016

With my cerebral palsy I’m technically not meant to have much coordination, so when I first started I couldn’t hit the ball that well, I was getting beaten by people around me. It was frustrating, but at the same time I wanted to do it again and I was determined to improve.

Any chance I had, I would play, joining the Over 60’s sessions or practising my serve by myself. If the door was open, I was there. It took over my life. I could have gone down a different route, but I wasn’t behind the bike sheds smoking, or out drinking. I was playing table tennis.

Mum found a club round the corner from where I lived and at my first lesson I met a guy called Tony Edge. He won Paralympic silver back in 1984. I remember going there feeling quite cocky, thinking ‘he’s in a wheelchair, I can beat him’. He beat me 22-0; I didn’t get a single point off him.

Tony suggested that maybe a wheelchair was the best option because by then I was struggling to walk and having to sit down between points - I was in agony. He enabled me to embrace my disability and now I wouldn’t change it; it’s my USP and my path in life.

Tony was a fantastic mentor to me – but sport changed my life beyond belief.

At school, my persona changed from Jack in a wheelchair to Jack who plays table tennis. I wasn’t seen as a disabled person, I was seen as an athlete. I could play with my friends or with other club members; the rules didn’t change. I played for Cheshire and Merseyside; I was one of the best ranked in my area.


Looking back, sport saved my life. And I don’t mean that flippantly. It was a focal point going through these very dark times.

Jack Hunter-Spivey

When London won the bid to host the 2012 Paralympic Games I became obsessed with becoming a Paralympian. I watched hours of You Tube and kept my Mum up late, hitting balls against the wall. It was heart-breaking not to make the team but looking back I wasn’t ready for it. Instead, I went as part of the Paralympic Inspiration Programme and it lit a fire in my belly – I was determined to get to Rio.

But when I moved to Sheffield to train full-time, I found myself struggling with my mental health. I remember a conversation with my coach who said you’ve turned up to training in the same clothes for three days, you’ve not had a shower, you’re crying at sessions, what’s the matter? It was an arm around the shoulder, and I would try to get away with it by saying the washing machine was broken, or home life wasn’t great, but I wasn’t happy in myself. I was depressed, with a dark cloud hanging over me all the time. When I finally sat down with my psychologist, I was fortunate that they pointed me in the right direction. Looking back, sport saved my life. And I don’t mean that flippantly. Things got so bad in my late teens that I tried to take my own life. The only reason I didn’t succeed was because I had to be at training in the morning. It was a focal point going through these very dark times.

Things changed when I started opening up to therapists. I used to see my mental health issues as a sign of weakness, but now I know it’s not a taboo like I had thought it was. It’s like a weight off my shoulders. Going through mental health battles has helped me massively in my table tennis career and I would do it all again. Talking so openly has been great. I want to be able to say it’s okay.

If I take a step back I think I’ve done quite well for myself. I’m only 25 but I feel like a veteran of the sport. I made it to Rio and I’m focused on Tokyo. It’s been a crazy journey, but I’m proud of what I’ve achieved both on and off the table. I’ve been through a hell of a lot and got through to the other side. The fire in my belly burns as strong as ever.

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