Stephanie Chan, the 62-year-old Richmondite, didn't know a big surprise was waiting for her until she arrived in Lima, Peru on Aug. 18 and was told she had been named Canada’s flag-bearer for the 2019 Parapan American Games’ opening ceremony.
Chan, the Para table tennis player who recently returned from the Lima games where she won bronze, waved the maple leaf while 150 Canadian athletes marched behind her into the Estadio Nacional of Peru, the country's national stadium with a seating capacity of 40,000.
"The Table Tennis Canada committee had kept the secret from me until the day before the opening ceremony, and my first reaction was why did you chose me?" said Chan, adding, "My age could be other athletes' grandmas."
"Words can't express how I feel about this opportunity. It was one of the proudest moments of my life," said Chan, her face breaking into a smile.
Chan, who competes in the Class 7 division, is ranked No. 10 in the world and No. 2 in the Americas after adding her most recent bronze medal to her collections.
Currently, she has one gold, two silver, and two bronze medals from her Parapan Am career.
Although Chan, has had great success in table tennis, she didn't actually begin playing the game until the age of 44.
In 1997, Chan immigrated to Richmond from Hong Kong. That’s when, at the age of 40 and with a disability she had acquired at age 4, she began participating in a variety of sports, including wheelchair basketball and throwing discus.
Finally, a friend took her to the YMCA where she saw people playing table tennis. She recalls the players’ faces lit up with joy.
"Their positive attitude also lifted my spirits. At that time, I decided to start a new chapter in my life as a table tennis player," said Chan.
Chan recalls the year 2000 as her life-turning point. Finally, she could stand for an extended time without suffering severe leg pain after receiving operations in Hong Kong.
At that point, Chan picked up a paddle and started intensive training. She hoped to participate in international competitions to motivate more people with disabilities to pursue their dreams.
After learning that the 2007 Parapan American games was held in Rio, Brazil, Chan asked the Table Tennis Canada committee to let her join the team.
"I asked my son to write a letter to them (the committee members), and they gave me permission to join the competition, but I had to cover all the costs myself," said Chan, adding that "I borrowed some money from my sister to join the contest."
Now, as one of the most senior athletes on the Canadian team, Chan hopes her personal experience could help the younger generation and people with disabilities to find inspirations.
"Young people should believe in themselves and work hard to make their dreams come true, and it's never too late to start a brilliant career," said Chan.
Recently Chan has set up an integrated table tennis club to teach seniors and the disabled to play table tennis for free.
"I hope to use sports to help more people maintain a happy and healthy lifestyle," said Chan.