“If your dreams don’t scare you, they aren’t big enough” – Muhammad Ali
Melissa ‘Milly’ Tapper is one of Australia’s greatest hidden treasures.
In the sport of table tennis she has accomplished more in her time competing than many have in a lifetime.
In 2014 she became the first Australian Paralympic (London 2012) athlete to qualify for an Australian able-bodied national team (Glasgow 2014).
Born in a small town in the south west, Hamilton, with Brachial Plexus Erbs Palsy in her right arm, Milly has always been one to turn up to sport first and be the last one to leave. In early years competing mostly in netball, athletics and basketball.
At 8 years old Milly picked up her first table tennis racquet in primary school as part of lunch time sport under the guidance of Peter and Jean Humphries and was continually encouraged to participate in sport through her favourite P.E teacher, George Fitzpatrick.
Travelling to and from Hamilton to Melbourne on a regular basis for training, Milly made her first state team at 12 years old and her first Australian junior team at 14. It was not long after this that the big decision was made where Milly would make the move to the big smoke in Melbourne where she would live with her older sister Nicole, begin year 10 at Caulfield Grammar which enabled her to train on a daily basis.
Approached by the Australian Paralympic Committee in 2009 to give para table tennis a go, Milly was at first a bit hesitant, but after traveling to Jordan later that year, she feel in love with the para world and the strength and the abilities of its athletes and was caught hook line and sinker in wanting to qualify for the London 2012 Paralympic Games.
2011 Milly won the Hungarian, Italian, Arafura and British para opens, finishing 2011 at the top of the world ranking list in her class (10). Placing 4th at the London Paralympics after losing the bronze medal play-off to China’s Lei Fan in a tight 5 setter. Milly said she has Lei Fan to thank for her continued motivation and determination to excel, pushing herself to become the beset possible athlete she can be.
In 2013 it was decided Milly would spend over 4 months in Poland training and competing in league and proved to be one of the most difficult and demanding thing Milly has put herself through physically and mentally. Coming home 5 days before Christmas and 5kgs overweight Milly had never been so happy to be home.
After a huge January training camp, Milly headed to the Gold Coast to compete in the Australian Commonwealth Games trials. After a terrible start losing her two first matches, she knew she was going to have to fight her heart out for every last ball the following day if she was to have a glimmer of hope to qualify. And that is what she did, winning 4 out of 5 matches and again 2 out of 4 the following day sealing the deal and snagging her the automatic 3 position in the team heading to Glasgow, and doing so becoming the first Australian Paralympic athlete to qualify in an able-bodied team.
In Glasgow Milly competed in the women teams event where they claimed a bronze medal and in mixed doubles she reached the 2nd round.
Four weeks after arriving home Milly was flying to Beijing, China to compete in the Para World Championships. Here she battled her way through tough competition and displayed her mental toughness after a huge year thats been to come away from the Championships with a bronze medal in her class, which also made history being the first Australian para world championship medal to have been achieved.
After what has been an incredible 2014, Milly is now looking to Rio, and making history by qualifying for Australia in both the Olympics and Paralympic games. A feat she would describe as being ‘an absolute dream come true’.
But the best way to finish a career would be on home turf, so what better way than to work towards the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast in 2018.
So back to the table and hitting the little white ball over the net for Milly.