Prosperous partnership promotes ping pong player to proud Para-athlete

20 December 2017

Table tennis, or ping pong as he knew it, was once a game of hit and giggle for Siaosi Vaka, but a life-changing accident and an unlikely mentor have made table tennis his passion, and his pathway.

Siaosi Vaka playing table tennis
Tongan table tennis player Siaosi Vaka is representing his country at the Vanuatu Mini Games. Photo credit: ABC/Aaron Kearney.

They are one of sport's most unlikely partnerships.

An elderly, slightly-built Japanese table tennis sensei and a barrel-chested, goatee-bearded Tongan wheelchair athlete.

And yet, when Siaosi Vaka somehow found Masahiko Nishioka the other side of a table tennis net in the Pacific Kingdom of Tonga, the sport went from being a game he once played for a laugh with friends to the vehicle that would propel him onto the international stage and give him the chance to wear the Tongan crest on his chest.

"I played ping pong," Siaosi says, of the time before his accident.

"Now I play table tennis."

"I really like it because I know I represent Tonga. Secondly, I have a lot of fun."

In 2005, Siaosi broke his back in a car accident.

Now 32, Siaosi spent three years adjusting to life in a wheelchair before re-discovering table tennis.

He is part of the Australian Aid-supported Smash Down Barriers program, funded through the PSP, which promotes social inclusion through table tennis.

Read more of this story of how an unlikely but dynamic duo of wheelchair athlete Siaosi Vaka and his Japanese coach Masahiko Nishioka and discover their unique connection in sport and life.

Last Updated: 20 December 2017