WATCH | A second chance to shine: Bonteheuwel table tennis star heads to 2020 Paralympic Games

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  • Theo Cogill will be the first Bonteheuwel resident to represent South Africa at the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic games this year.
  • He was diagnosed with Brown-Séquard syndrome after suffering stab wounds to his spinal cord 10 years ago.
  • Doctors said he would never walk again but "by some miracle", he recovered and kept chasing his dreams to play table tennis.

For Theo Cogill, a talented table tennis player from Bonteheuwel, the road to sporting success took a major detour when he was seriously injured while trying to break up a fight outside a nightclub. 

Today he's the first Paralympian from the Cape Town suburb and will attend the 2020 Games in Tokyo in August.

Cogill, 34, has been playing table tennis for 21 years. He started at the age of 12 when he and his cousin took a door that was lying in the backyard and turned it into their own little table tennis court.

"We were just playing and having fun like normal kids would do. Then I found out that they have table tennis at the community centre, and my cousin and I started playing there," he told News24.

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A local coach scouted Cogill and asked if he'd be interested in joining a club and playing competitively.

"And that's where it all started," he said.

He was selected for the national table tennis team and has competed in Africa and championships worldwide.

Dreams dashed

But in 2011, while he was the reigning senior national champion, his whole world came crashing down. Cogill suffered stab wounds to his spinal cord when he tried to break up a fight outside a local nightclub.

"My spinal cord crashed, and I was diagnosed with Brown-Séquard syndrome. It's a lesion in the spinal cord which results in the loss of feeling on one side of the body," he explained.

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Doctors told Cogill he would never walk again, let alone play table tennis, and that no operation could improve his condition.

However, after contracting meningitis and spending even more time in the hospital, "by some miracle," feeling slowly started to return to his limbs.

While I was sitting at home, I thought it wouldn't be possible to play again. My body wasn't feeling fit, and I had so many new things to adjust to again.

But before long, he found himself next to the court, slowly knocking the ball around.

Challenge accepted

"I started feeling better and better and thought that I should give myself a chance to see if I can get back into the team," he added.

When Cogill started competing again, his body just wasn't the same, and he could not keep up with the pace. This was when someone suggested that he look into the Para League because of his injury.

Cogill was allocated to the T10 class, the highest-ranking ability in the para league, and he started to compete once again.

"It was a challenge but I adjusted quite well. You always think you have the upper hand because I was an able body I can just go into the para and just shut everybody down. But no, it wasn't like that. I was shocked to see the level of play and how good people really are," he said.

Olympic dreams

Cogill continued to work hard, and with the support of the South African Table Tennis Board, he accumulated enough points to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games.

"In my mind I thought there was no chance because you need so much more than you think just to qualify," he said. "But when we received the news we were so happy, not just myself but the whole table tennis community."

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Cogill said he was nervous and excited for the games to begin. The tournament starts on 24 August and ends on 5 September. 

"We don't always put our mind on, obviously we want to win a medal at the end of the day, but we take it one step at a time and see how it goes," he said.


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