Durban - Never in her wildest dreams did Durban’s Naseema Parak think she would represent South Africa in an international sporting event, and yet she is.
Parak and fellow Durbanite Rajesh Nanjee, who playfully call themselves “movers and shakers”, will fly the country’s flag at the World Parkinson’s Table Tennis Championships in Greece next month.
The two, both members of the non-profit group Parkinson’s ZA, were informed last week that they were among three athletes who would represent Africa at the tournament on the island of Crete (the other person is from Ghana), and now, the hard work starts to find funding to attend the event.
An ecstatic Parak, 62, told the Independent on Saturday that it’s her first big tournament and that her regular matches were usually played at home in the garage against her two grandsons, aged 12 and 13.
“They are very happy. They feel they actually coached me. My son thinks he coached me. I have three coaches.”
And not to be outdone, Parak says her husband acts as if he is a table tennis expert, chipping in with advice, even when she’s folding up the board at home.
She was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2012, and since then, her life has changed dramatically.
“Mine was very unusual. It started in my right leg, which was stiff, and I knew there was something wrong with me because I used to play ten pin bowling for a league, and I couldn’t roll the ball properly. There was something telling me there is something wrong in my body, because you know your body,” she said.
Parak says next, her right arm became stiff, and her fingers were grew so stiff that she couldn't lift her food. Eventually, she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.
The symptoms increased, and soon, Parak had difficulty swallowing. Depression followed. She lost her appetite and a lot of weight, and then her speech became slurred.
However, after joining the Parkinson’s ZA group a year ago, her health improved dramatically.
“Thank God I’ve come a long way. When some people see me, they say, 'you have Parkinson’s, but you don't shake’. I have my shakes from time to time, but not like before. Then it was terrible,” said Parak.
She said the disease decreased the ‘’happy hormone” or dopamine in your brain, and many sufferers also had the “Parkinson’s look” because their faces were expressionless.
“I used to be a very happy-go-lucky person, always laughing and joking, but with Parkinson’s, all that changed,” said Parak.
The World Health Organization says Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a brain condition that causes problems with movement, mental health, sleep, pain and other health issues. The WHO says common symptoms include tremors, painful muscle contractions and difficulty speaking. It also results in high rates of disability and the need for care, while many people with PD also develop dementia.
Nanjee, 58, developed PD when he was only in his thirties and says table tennis slows down the progression of the disease.
“I have 21 years of experience with PD, but there is still tons for me to learn, and I need to bring back from Greece what I can learn to benefit others,” said Nanjee, who also has several Amashova cycle races under his belt despite his medical condition.
He says illness doesn’t discriminate, and those living with PD in South Africa include professors, attorneys, accountants, pharmacists, medical doctors and physicians. “They have brilliant minds that are still active and sharp, but because of the physical disability it’s like your brilliance is washed aside. I say we bring information from Greece, and we can put it into a thinking pot, and one of these okes might come up with something that might help everybody.”
Until then, Nanjee said, they were practising hard, and the few days ahead would be busy. “We are in a drive to expedite a bit of sponsorship to get us there.”
Rakesh Harribhai, who started Parkinson’s ZA after his mom was diagnosed with it, said they had set up online “Mover and Shaker’s” accounts for Parak and Nanjee to raise funds for the trip to Greece. They also needed to get kit in which to play.
Harribhai said the trip would be physically challenging for the participants as it involved four stages of travel to get to Crete from Durban and commended Parak and Nanjee for their courage. He said the World Parkinson’s Table Tennis Championships would take place from November 1-5.
Those keen to sponsor the players can go to https://www.parkinsonsza.org for more information.
The Independent on Saturday