There may be a chasm of 64 years between them, but two Fremantle Table Tennis Club players have bonded over love of the game and are shooting for green and gold.
Despite being on opposite ends of the generational spectrum, Gordon Lee and Lenny Properjohn have a shared passion for table tennis – and both have major tournaments ahead of them or in the rear-view mirror.
Lee, 84, is set to compete at the 2022 Australian Masters Games in Perth at the end of April in the men’s 70+ category. Properjohn, 20, has just returned from Spain, having played his first international tournament abroad at the Costa Brava Spanish Para Open.
Lee was a leading table tennis junior who gave up the game as a teenager when work took over his life, resulting in a 45-year absence from the sport.
However, a chance encounter with the sport he once loved in a Dunsborough pub two decades ago convinced Lee, then 65, to give the game another chance.
When he returned to the game, he found that the game had changed, but he was determined not to give up once the bug returned.
“When I walked into the table tennis center and saw the players, I thought ‘this must be the world championship’, because of the level and the way they are playing in the era. modern,” Lee said.
“The way I played when we were 19, we played table tennis like they played tennis; with long, graceful strokes.
“In 45 years, so much time had passed and they had improved so much – it was faster, more skilled and they looked like real athletes.”
In the years since, Lee’s perseverance has been rewarded with multiple Australian Veterans Championships, a team gold medal at the World Masters in 2010 and a silver medal at the World Veterans Table Tennis Championships in Stockholm – the only WA-born player to win a world table. Tennis medal in any age group.
Properjohn, meanwhile, said his first international tournament was an eye-opening experience as he learned about the realities of competing overseas, such as jet lag.
He teamed up with Melissa Tapper, the first-ever athlete to represent Australia at the Olympics and Paralympics, in mixed doubles, which he said was a thrill.
Properjohn said he had a connection to Lee even before the two were properly introduced.
“I went to school with his grandson – his grandson and I became best friends at school and after school I come home, go to the club and see Gordon play in table tennis,” Properjohn said.
“One day my friend said that I knew his grandfather and since we are close and have always kept in touch, I am quite close to their family.”
Properjohn said Lee was an invaluable source of information and was thrilled to see how he was doing at the masters games.
“I like hitting with him, he’s a guy who knows the game very well and he taught me a lot of skills and tricks.”
Lee believed Properjohn had the ability to perform at the highest level.
“He’s not the best in Australia in his category, but he’s only a hair’s breadth away. I said ‘I’ll train with you as often as you want’ and we have a pretty tight game as it is,” he said.
“He never beat me, but I really have to watch myself with him.”