Table tennis champion Daniel Bullen is working his way towards the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics after taking a gold medal in a National School Games event.
“I’m over the moon,” said Daniel. “I’ve worked my socks off to get better. I had gained some great experience at the GB Para training camp in Slovenia recently, and I also had my own coach in my corner this year.”
Away from competition, Bedford College student Daniel has succeeded in gaining a BTEC Level 2 Diploma in Sport and has progressed to Level 3.
The St Neots-based teenager took up table tennis eight years ago and his confidence has increased hugely as his successes have mounted up.
Daniel, who has cerebral palsy, has combined talent with huge amounts of dedication to make his mark.
”I got into table tennis eight years ago at a disability sports club in Norfolk, where we used to live,” said Daniel, 18.
“One of the coaches there (Mark Spinks) had the same disability as me and he’d just come back from the CP World Games. I saw he was good at it and I wanted to be as well.
“Before I played table tennis I couldn’t catch a ball – I had no co-ordination whatsoever. It took me a year to hit the ball over the net.”
When Spinks had taken him as far as he could, Daniel met former Paralympic coach Mark Mitchell, who has a wealth of experience working with wheelchair players.
Daniel began travelling from Norfolk to St Neots two or three times a week in order to train with Mitchell, before the family moved to Cambridgeshire a couple of years ago to make life easier.
“Since I met Mark my game’s gone from strength to strength and I’m still going,” said Bullen. With his talent and desire, it would be no surprise to see Daniel fulfil his dream of Tokyo 2022.
His progress has given him a busy schedule, and there are very few days when he is not playing matches or training.
Daniel locks the front wheels on his wheelchair so that he only has to worry about forward and backward movements, with his long arms being used to good effect for shots out wide.
And there is always plenty to think about when it comes to getting the better of his opponents, particularly when travelling to the continent.
“Abroad it surprises me how well I do because you never know what’s going to turn up on the other side of the table,” said Daniel,
“In this country I know where I am and know everybody.
Daniel competes against able-bodied players when he represents St Neots in numerous leagues, and his family have largely had to self-fund his progress.
The Teenager, who was named the sports performer of the year at last year’s Living Sport Sports Awards, added: “I had no confidence before I played table tennis. It’s changed my life.”
Daniel has continued support from the Norfolk Sports and Culture Foundation, funded by Norfolk County Council and the Norse Group.