Theo the comeback kid of table tennis

WP and SA umpire, Genevieve Lentz
Theo Cogill, 34, from Bonteheuwel, a member of Boundary Table Tennis Club
Theo Cogill, 34, from Bonteheuwel, a member of Boundary Table Tennis Club
Theo Cogill, 34, from Bonteheuwel, a member of Boundary Table Tennis Club

Theo Cogill, 34, from Bonteheuwel, a member of Boundary Table Tennis Club, is the proverbial comeback kid.

A letter from the Paralympic Committee of South Africa at the weekend informed him about his selection as a member of the Tokyo-bound SA Paralympic squad.

Instead of pinching himself to make sure it’s not a dream, a quick trip to Groote Schuur Hospital to get his compulsory Covid vaccine jab, along with other high-profile athletes taking part in this year’s Olympic Games, confirmed it.

Getting his national call up is a big deal, considering that he’s had to overcome severe injury, including semi-paralysis as the result of a traumatic stabbing incident ten years ago.

A once promising youngster, Cogill, almost had his career cut short by a life-threatening stab wound that nearly robbed him of his life and left him paralysed on the the right side of his body a day before his 24 birthday.

Much like the title of a Beatles classic song, his journey to recovery was a long and winding road.

At the time, he says, he had intervened in a fight outside a popular spot on Voortrekker Road in Bellville when he ended up being the victim and rushed to the emergency room with a nasty stab wound to his neck.

For months, even years, playing table tennis was last thing on his mind. First he had to learn how to walk, taking one baby step at a time.

However, you can’t keep a good man down, even one that’s wheelchair-bound, and he eventually found his way back to table tennis, much to the delight of his coaches, club members and even his rivals.

Competitive by nature, Cogill was determined to make his mark against able-bodied players, which he did. Although a bit reluctant at first, he eventually considered trying his hand at Para table tennis by 2013.

Physically challenged players are classified based on the nature and extent of their disability, Cogill said.

Once classified in the TT10 division (that’s for players able to stand up without support), he could work on improving his game. He eventually found his mojo, and the rest as they say, is history.

Although losing against a Nigerian opponent in his last international competitive match, the semi-finals of a Paralympic qualifier in Egypt, in 2018, he earned a spot at a training camp in Slovenia, that same year.

As the Covid bombshell dropped in 2020, table tennis took a backseat, along with everything else.

When news of his latest selection was announced, it was the culmination of years of preparation – from starting out as a total newby at primary school to several Western Province and winning national titles at various levels over the years.

Like many talented youngsters earmarked for competition at a higher level, Cogill also spent time at the University of Pretoria’s High Performance Centre and attended many training camps and competitions all over the world.

“I would just lije to thanlk everyone that ‘s supported me over the years, especially the South African Table Tennis Board,” he said.

“Theo is a great inspiration to our youth and he is revered in South Africa and Africa,” said WP and SA umpire, Genevieve Lentz, who is also from Bonteheuwel and also gearing up to travel to Japan.

“He is very deserving of this opportunity. The Table Tennis fraternity is exceptionally proud of this tenacious young man, Bonteheuwel and Boundary TTC are very Proud of him too. Wewish him well at the Tokyo Paralympic Games 2020. He deserves his place among the stars,” she said.