She is thought to have taken home the largest haul of gold medals by a New Zealand table tennis player. Shelley Neal, of Edendale, won seven gold medals, and one silver, at the New Zealand Table Tennis Championships in Christchurch last week.
She was told by organisers the next closest had been six gold medals, and was over the moon with her achievement.
It was her first year competing in the over-45 event, and she set herself the target to win gold.
“I’m pretty happy with it. I really wanted to win that event,” Neal said.
Her success meant she won two triple crowns, winning singles, doubles and mixed doubles, in the over-30 and over-45 categories.
She went on to win the B-grade doubles and a silver in the B-grade singles, which went down to the wire in five sets.
“Whenever I was down a couple of points, I just thought to myself, I’m from Edendale, let’s crank up the pace.”
Her mixed doubles partner, Chalitha Ranjana, travelled from Sri Lanka to compete at the event.
The pair were randomly put together last year and created a winning combination, she said.
“We won the same event last year, so it seems to work well.”
She loved playing New Zealand Olympic team member Hui Ling Vong, despite narrowly losing in five sets.
the best was a luxury, but it did not come without its challenges.
“I think the hardest part is the pressure I put on myself, but I love playing people of all different styles and adapting myself to suit the match.
“I just wanted to do my best and work hard for every point because the games used to go up to 21 but now they only go to 11, so every point is precious,” she said.
Her new coach Martin Duffy, of Otago, travelled with her and provided support throughout the competition.
Neal’s training partner Barry Ellis, of Edendale, coached the Southland Men’s B team to an historic D-grade championship win at the event.
The final was drawn at three matches each, but former Edendale resident Phil Brocks came from behind to clinch the win in the 5th set, she said.
Her love for the sport came when she picked up the paddle at 10 years of age to play with her father.
“It’s really the only sport I’ve been involved with competitively.”
Neal and Ellis would captain two New Zealand teams leaving for the Australian Veteran Championships in Adelaide tomorrow.
Afterwards Neal would return to training, as she plans to retain her medals at next season’s championships.