Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Mike Dempsey: Turning the Tables

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Mike Dempsey: Turning the Tables

Article excerpt

Mike Dempsey, 39, a member of the United States Paralympic team, is currently training for the 1996 games in Atlanta, where he will compete in table tennis. Dempsey, who has partial paraplegia, began his Paralympic career in 1972. He won a gold medal at the 1988 Paralympics and a silver medal at the 1992 games. In 199S, Dempsey was inducted into the National Wheelchair Athletic Association Hall of Fame.

Dempsey is one of the owners of Kuschall of America, a wheelchair manufacturing company. He lives in Camarillo, California, with his wife of five years, Shannon, two golden retrievers and three cats. When not working or training, Dempsey enjoys doing "anything to do with the outdoors," especially boating and camping. The following was adapted from an interview between Dempsey and EXCEPTIONAL PARENT intern Tiffani C. Willis.

I was born in 1956, in Columbus, Ohio. When I was six months old, doctors discovered a skin tumor on my back. They gave me an injection to stop its growth. However, the roots of the tumor had wrapped around my spinal cord. Although the tumor did not sever my spinal cord completely, it resulted in partial paraplegia. I do have some movement in my legs.

Kids can be creative

When I was a child, most children with disabilities attended special schools. I was lucky to be mainstreamed from the very beginning. I believe main-streaming is not only good for the child with a disability, it is also good for the other children, who can learn to deal with kids who have differences. I have found that when someone is shy around a person with a disability, it's usually because they have never met someone with a disability before and don't know how to react.

Of course, my school had one or two bullies. But you don't have to have a disability to experience teasing: those kinds of kids aren't too choosy. For the most part, however, my teachers and the other kids were supportive in trying to figure out ways for me to be included. I got involved in as many activities as possible. I played touch football; I had a good arm so I was the quarterback. I also played baseball. I pitched or hit and let someone else run the bases. Kids can be pretty creative.

Spirit of competition

I've always been pretty competitive. Some of that probably comes from having to try and make my place within a regular class--that, and having to hold my own with five older sisters. That competitive spirit carried over into sports.

I began playing table tennis during recess at school when I was 12. I won the school's table tennis tournament Some of the kids I had defeated in the finals complained that I had broken the rules because I touched the table; this was because of the way I sat in my chair and held onto the table during a game. I realized I needed to learn the best way to play this game in a wheelchair.

Several years earlier, my mom had clipped a newspaper article on John Gray, the national wheelchair table tennis champion. John, who had paraplegia as the result of a car accident, lived in my town. So my mother and I called him and asked if he could give me some pointers. He asked me to meet him at the local table tennis club, and that was the start of my athletic career.

Role models

John took me under his wing, becoming my coach and my practice partner. John was one of the first adults with a disability I had ever met. Prior to that time, I hadn't really been around other people with disabilities, except maybe at therapists, offices. …

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