Balancing Act: Table Tennis Duo

July 21, 2022

Finding the right work/life balance is an equation everyone dreams of solving. 

Having to shoehorn in a commitment to elite sport on either side of that slash, though? It’s a scale that doesn’t balance, a litre trying to squeeze into a pint glass. 

So spare a thought for those Team Scotland athletes who aren’t full-time in their sport. Who aren’t funded. Whose every waking hour is spent trying to bend the space/time continuum to get more than 24 hours into a day and more than seven days into a week. 

That’s the conundrum facing both Colin Dalgleish and Rebecca Plaistow as they prepare for the table tennis event in Birmingham. 

Along with 16-time national champ Gavin Rumgay and Scotland No2 Lucy Elliott, they form a truncated four-player outfit who’ll appear in the singles and doubles, but not the team event.  

But Colin, 27 – a veteran of the Gold Coast Games in 2018 – and Rebecca, 22, are both in the throes of trying to make a big impression in their chosen professions, both in their first jobs since graduating, one with a wedding looming in weeks, the other having moved home to a new city in January.  

And yet both are desperate to be at the peak of their powers to face world-class opponents in a matter of weeks.  

“It’s a juggling act,” admitted Colin. “I work for Sky in Livingston on their graduate accountancy programme, so I’m in the middle of doing my professional exams. They’ve been a brilliant support to me in terms of time off for events, but balancing the studying, the job and training isn’t easy.  

“I’ve also got a June wedding with my fiancee Caitlin, we just picked up the keys to a new house, yet I’m trying to put in three or four nights a week on the TT as a bare minimum for where I want my game to be.” 

Rebecca has similar issues. A recent graduate of Glasgow Caley Uni, she uprooted from her Ayrshire home in January to take on a job in Newcastle as a dietician at the Royal Victoria Infirmary.   

As with all NHS Trusts at the moment, she finds herself in an understaffed and overworked environment, and she admitted: “There are nights I get home where I’m too tired to face training or the gym, they’re long days at work, on your feet, around the wards. 

“From a training point of view, I’ve been lucky to find a club at the Uni right next to where I work and the standard is really good. There’s a guy called Graeme Barella coaching there, who’s top 20 in England and used to play in the Scottish National League. 

“So that’s been a help – but now they’re shut for the exams so I’m having to factor in getting home on weekends, or up to Edinburgh, to get some practice in.” 

As an indoor pursuit, table tennis was among the worst affected by the pandemic, forcing even the best of the best into an almost complete hibernation.  

“It couldn’t have come at a worse time for me,” sighed Colin. 

“Going to the Commies in 2018 had been massive for me.  I’d gone to Germany with our No. 2 Craig Howieson for 10 days before it and it was a great camp, best centre in Europe, training with their national team guys, and it got us in the best shape possible. 

“Then the Gold Coast experience was amazing. Our first night we played Australia on the show court in front of a home crowd. Playing Malaysia was brilliant as well.  

“These events are so valuable but, when they only come every four years, you have to take everything you can from them. 

“I came back and felt like I really kicked on, I beat Gavin Rumgay in the final to win my first nationals, I was playing the best TT of my life at the time, I’d just graduated and was thinking about taking some time to go and play some pro tour events  – and we went into lockdown a week later! 

“We all thought it would be a few weeks, but the longer it went the more you realised what the consequences were. We had literally no access to the sport.  

“I kept really fit, I did a huge running challenge with friends in the April, May and June I was going HIIT sessions every day, I was in great shape – but I couldn’t get a bat in my hand. 

“I don’t think I trained properly between March 2020 and our first camp back at Inverclyde at the end of July 2021.” 

Having lost both national finals since returning to the indomitable Rumgay, Dalgleish now feels he’s finally returning to where he was pre-Covid, a perception borne out by his recent win over Welsh legend Ryan Jenkins for the North Ayrshire side he led to an impressive second place. 

“The Games are a step up again, though,” he cautioned. “We’re playing against full time athletes, and it’s doubly hard because our opponents will almost all have played in the team event when they get to the singles and doubles – and we’ll be coming in cold. 

“There’s no margin for error so you need to peak for day one.” 

Plaistow, meanwhile, has been accumulating more experience of her own, leading the Scotland side in the European League in Sarajevo  and can’t wait to savour her first major Games.  

“It was frustrating that we didn’t send a women’s team to Gold Coast,” Rebecca admitted. “I’d seen the women’s team from Wales and England get announced, and then our men’s team, so it was quite disheartening when we didn’t send. 

“I actually went as a spectator in 2014 in Glasgow when I was only 14, but I had already beaten one of the girls in that team even then – so I’d always hoped I’d get the chance. 

“Then, when we were up getting fitted for the uniforms in Stirling a few weeks ago, walking the corridors and looking at the pictures of all the top athletes on the walls, it all felt pretty special to be part of it. 

“I don’t really know anyone else in Team Scotland. Jemma Reekie, who’s obviously a world class athlete, came from just up the road from me in Kilbarchan, so I’m looking forward to seeing her and hopefully learning a lot from everyone else.  

“And, although we’re not in the team event, I’ll still be going down early to get some practice in – and for the opening ceremony. I don’t want to miss a minute of the experience.” 

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