Run, Forrest, run, away from painful pingpong tourney


Bum bum bum.

Bum bum bum.

Bum bum buuuuuuuuum.

That’s me, Rocky blaring from the stereo, standing in my T-shirt and boxers in front of the mirror, punching my reflection like the famous pugilist.

It’s time.

For pingpong.

That’s right, I’m psyching myself up for a pingpong tournament. So what? Pingpong is a serious sport. Anybody who’s seen Forrest Gump knows that.

And I thought I was Forrest.

Oh, how wrong I was.

I had wanted to enter the intramural pingpong tournament since my freshman year. I played hours of pingpong in high school and was, essentially, champion of my school. We played on a plywood board set up on two trash cans, and I was King of the Plywood, taking on all challengers and beating them soundly before the end-of-lunch bell.

But when I got to college I just didn’t have the time for table-tennis training. It was sad, really. I played occasionally at The Break, but only in between games of Quarterback Challenge.

I still wanted to enter that tournament, just to weigh myself against the Oregon competition, see how I stacked up. But I was always busy each year.

This year, I finally caught a break, an open schedule on the big day, a Sunday two weeks ago. I signed up.

I’m fully psyched by the time I get to Gerlinger. The athletic juice is flowing through my veins, the kind of juice that I envision flows through the veins of Michael Jordan before he steps on the court.

But then I step into the pingpong gym, and right in front of me is a student who I later learn is the pingpong club team coordinator. He’s taking his paddle out from a pingpong paddle case, like a mini tennis racket case.

I have two thoughts.

“Oh. No.”

And things don’t get any better. The format of the tournament is a round-robin seeding set of games, followed by a bracket.

I find out that my four-player round-robin group consists of me, Lee (the pingpong instructor at Oregon), Vivien (who later loses in the tournament’s final) and Nick (the aforementioned club coordinator).

Vivien’s last name is actually Pong.

I’m in for a rough afternoon.

I hold short-lived leads on Vivien and Nick, but in the best-of-five matches, I don’t win a single game in the round-robin portion. I figure I’ll face a high seed in the bracket and leave the premises early.

But then I get a blessing from the intramural people running the tournament. A play-in game. In the play-in game, I face a student who went through the round-robin tournament in similar fashion to me; that is, he didn’t win a game. I like my chances.

I win the first game, start looking around the other tables to scout out my possible second-round competition. But then my competitor wins the second game.

OK, fine.

Then he wins the third game handily to go up 2-1. Then he takes a 9-4 lead in the fourth game, with the games played to 11.

OK, tough guy. You might be good, but I’m Forrest Gump.

I come back and tie the game at 10. Have to win by two, so we battle back and forth, neither able to put the game away. Finally I win it at 16-14.

As we switch sides, we look at each other, the glance containing a mix of I’ll-get-you machoism and who-cares-either-one-will-lose-the-next-match shame. We’re headed to a fifth and deciding game.

But it doesn’t go well. He goes up big at 5-1, then 7-3, then 10-4. My serve. I win both. Break both his serves. He actually says “Jesus” at one point. I try not to think about the possibility of a comeback.

Then it happens. I’ve come all the way back at 10-10. We battle again.

It gets to 14-13 and he blows the next shot by me to win the game and the match. I’m devastated. Floored. In 21 games of pingpong, I’ve won two. I leave in shame.

But as I head back home, Rocky still playing on the car stereo but more softly now, I think back to high school.

And I’m Forrest once more.

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