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Florida Paralympian table tennis player overcomes obstacles, ready to go for gold in Paris

Jenson Van Emburgh looks to improve on bronze won at 2020 Tokyo games
Posted at 9:06 PM, Jun 03, 2024

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — The 2024 Paris Olympics begin on July 26 and athletes are full of passion and determination, ramping up their training each day.

A Paralympian table tennis athlete from Florida, who won bronze in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, is training in Naples before heading to Paris with dreams of gold.

Jenson Van Emburgh celebrated Olympic success in Tokyo, winning a bronze medal. Now, 53 days away from his Olympic return, the now 24-year-old told WPTV how his Olympic journey nearly ended at birth.

"During birth, I came out the wrong way, and there was only one doctor on call," Van Emburgh said.

The next move would alter his life forever.

"I was coming out the wrong way, and it was a little bit difficult, and he squeezed my spinal cord too hard,' Van Emburgh said. "He injured my spinal cord, and I also injured both my femurs."

The injuries left the Belleair Beach, Florida, resident paralyzed from the armpit down. While he and his family knew their lives would be altered forever, they developed a positive mindset.

"Things happen for a reason, and I'm very happy with my life now and what I get to do and travel all over the world," said Van Emburgh.

The luxury of traveling the world has come thanks to a tennis tournament he attended when he was 9 years old to support his brother.

At the outdoor match, it was hot, so Van Emburgh had to go inside to cool off.

"I really couldn't watch him play, so I just started to play table tennis with all the kids at the tournament, and by the end of the week, I was whooping up on all of them and hanging with them," he said.

He turned that childhood game into several local and international tournaments that helped him qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

"The pandemic actually helped me a little bit because they delayed it, so I got a full year of training, and we put a lot of hours in," said Van Emburgh.

He was ranked No. 11 and knocked off the fourth-ranked player in the country en route to his third-place finish.

"I was still finding my game and was still very young at the time. I was just trying to get as good as possible as I could before the Paralympics," said Van Emburgh.

Now at age 24, Van Emburgh is ranked No. 4 and is as focused as ever on winning the gold medal in Paris.

"I played the Para Panamerican games in Santiago, [Chile] in November last year, and I won that. I won a gold medal," said Van Emburgh.

To ensure his success, he hired one of America's best table tennis coaches.

"We do a lot of different types of drills, and we play different matches and different scenarios," head coach Jeff Yamada said.

Filled with excitement for next month, Van Emburgh said the only thing that can stop him is himself.

"It's a lot of emotions before the matches," he said. "That's what I struggle with the most. It's like a storm, but once I get to the table, that storm kind of is over, and I'm at war and battle with the other person across the table."