Leeds Sport: Daybell’s setting his sights on Rio 2016

Kim Daybell.
Kim Daybell.
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Born with a rare disease called Poland’s syndrome, which causes those sufferering from it to have abnormal or missing muscles on one side of the chest wall, Kim Daybell could be forgiven for settling for the cards he has been dealt.

Yet the world number seven table tennis player has done no such thing.

Instead he balances his ongoing medical degree at the University of Leeds with his intense training regime that he hopes will be enough to secure his place in the Rio 2016 Paralympics GB team.

Daybell was born in Sheffield to Malaysian mother Lee and English father Mike. It was with his father that he first discovered his love of the sport,

“I loved the speed of the game, how close quarters it was. It excited me instantly.”

From a young age Daybell has excelled as an athlete: swimming for Sheffield and representing Yorkshire at Badminton until he was 14. At Under-13 level, he was world number two in table tennis.

“I wanted to prove that my disability didn’t matter and that I was stronger than it.

“Competing with and against other para athletes made me realise my problems are minor compared to others.

“I made my international debut aged 16, just after the Beijing Olympic Games and dreamt of making the London 2012 Para GB team.”

His dream was realised as, in front of his home nation, Daybell competed against the world’s best in the C10 class – the highest standard of Para table tennis.

After progressing from his group, Daybell unfortunately fell in the round of 16 to Lian Hao.

He reflects memorably on the experience, describing the atmosphere in the games as “electric” and says he was “overwhelmed” by the support of the British public.

In academia, Daybell has similarly thrived, collecting three As in his A-levels and been accepted to the University of Leeds to study Medicine and Surgery.

Asked how he balances what many consider to be one of the most difficult degrees and international competition he said: “Sport gave me that discipline to get my head down and work hard. Balancing table tennis, my studies and having a social life is my biggest challenge but one that it is manageable.

“I try to keep competition and medicine separate. When I’m playing I’m completely focused on the game and when I’m studying I’m completely focused on the subject – mostly.”

As well as his desire to compete in Rio 2016, Daybell hopes to become a doctor one day: “I had vital surgery as a child here in Leeds and ever since I have felt in debt to the city. I can definitely see myself staying here after graduation because I love Leeds. I love the buzz of the place and the people within it.

“Seeing what modern medicine can do for disabled people inspired me to study. I want to help people the way I was helped.

“If it wasn’t for that surgeon, I would never have been able to play table tennis or study at a university.

“Thanks to him, not only can I survive, but I can live.”

The world number seven would like to reestablish himself in the elite top five, take a medal from the Rio games and become a doctor.

He says his achievements boil down to his “incredible” parents who have supported him through triumph and defeat, financially, emotionally and physically.

“I’m lucky,” says down-to-earth Daybell. “I have supportive friends, a supportive family and this incredible city behind me.”

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