Ping pong pro Wally Green shares how the sport saved him

Photo courtesy of Ysa Perez & The New York Times

Wally Green is a table tennis pro athlete and co-founder of SPiN New York. Green grew up in one of the most dangerous housing projects in Brooklyn and dealt with violence and abuse. Then, he found the sport of table tennis, which saved his life.

Green has become a national pro, taking his talents all the way to North Korea, where he represented the United States in a competition.


Why did you choose to play ping pong?

It was a sport that I actually hated as a kid. I did not like the sport at all. I used to make fun of kids playing the sport. But through the craziness of my life, I felt like someone saw something in me and didn’t want me dead or in jail for life, and they offered to pay for me to go to Germany to learn to play ping pong.


What do you think that person saw in you that wanted to give you a second chance in life?

I guess they saw a kid who was just trapped by the surroundings that he was in, and the conditions that he grew up in. I was always passionate about things, especially sports, and you could see it, even though I was doing the whole gangbanging thing. But you [could] see when I was passionate about something because I really wanted to learn and my eyes would light up. I think that individual saw that and saw I had a lot of potential. He just wanted to help. It was crazy because this wasn’t someone I knew for years. This is a guy that I met at a ping pong club, who paid me to play with him like once or twice a week.

What did everybody say when you left for Germany?

I didn’t tell anyone I was going, I just up and left. I grew up in the projects with very heavy domestic violence, and because of that, I joined gangs by the age of 13. I already had six guns at 13-years-old. It was a decision that I had to make. I was either going to take this help that I was going to get, or I was going to stay where I was, and possibly end up dead or in jail. So when I left, it just happened.

How do you set goals for yourself?

One of the most important things about making smart goals is that you celebrate no matter how small it is. It can be the tiniest thing, but it’s one up than you were before. So I celebrate. And that gives me inspiration. I started playing less and making bigger goals and took [it] one game at a time. What I did was I won the fight within myself. The fight in yourself is way harder than any other person or opponent in the world.

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