Why is this Woman Smiling: Queen of the Table

“Don’t call it an addiction,”  Alina Wen says in a conspiratorial tone as we sit at the YMCA chatting about her zeal for table tennis. “Just say it’s a passion.”

Addiction or passion, Ping-Pong or table tennis – call it what you want, but Wen, forty-eight, has emerged as the Island’s toughest female competitor and a fierce challenger to anyone wielding a paddle. She began playing as a way to get out of the house during the winter of 2009 after marrying and moving to the Vineyard from her native China.

“I had no social life,” she says, “and read about the group in the paper. ‘Let me give it a shot,’ I thought. I really liked the game but had no idea I’d get hooked. It was just something social to do.”

A cadre of enthusiasts had begun to play at the Aquinnah Town Hall in 2005: “Aquinnahpong,” it was called. By February 2012, the group had swelled to more than twenty-five players and decided to go official, joining USA Table Tennis (USATT), the governing body for the sport in the United States.

Lynn Christoffers

Today, according to Bob O’Rourke, president of the Martha’s Vineyard Table Tennis Club, about two dozen players are dues-paying members and occasional players number over eighty. Regulars include a rabbi, a pediatric dentist, a personal trainer, a potter, a dog trainer, a painter, and a property manager. Ages range from ten to eighty-five, with males far outnumbering females, something both he and Wen hope to change. Play is scheduled at the YMCA year round as well as at the high school during the academic year, with one program geared specifically toward teens. As an aside, O’Rourke adds that Ping-Pong and table tennis are one and the same, with table tennis being the non-trademarked and preferred name of the game.

Although Wen competed in sports during college, nothing about her career – at a luxury hotel, in her own beauty salon, or working as the administrator of a lingerie company – seemed to hint at the fervor with which this five-foot-two dynamo would pursue table tennis.

“I really liked the game,” she explains. “It requires a lot of core work. Physical fitness. A lot of people say it’s also a brain sport – good for a healthy brain. I picked it up fast.”

Playing year round up to five days per week, Wen says it’s the need for speed, form, and strategy that reeled her in. As she progressed, winning became less important than honing her technique and strategy. “I used to be conservative when I wanted to win,” she says. “I didn’t use proper form. If I keep my form and strategy today, I’m happy.”

According to O’Rourke, Wen is one of the club’s toughest players “measured in speed and force of her shots and consistency of play.” He adds: “Alina is the hardest worker in advancing her skills and techniques. She’s fiercely competitive but always upbeat, friendly, and complimentary to opponents.”

While she used to travel off-Island to work with Mozart François, a professional table tennis coach in the Boston area, he now comes to the Vineyard regularly to instruct her and other club members. His guidance, along with watching hours of championship play on YouTube and practice sessions each week, has yielded results: Wen has moved up dramatically in her national ranking, and she regularly places either first or second in USATT-sanctioned tournaments as far away as Florida and Louisiana. 

Just as important, she says, it’s changed her relationship with the Island. “I’m happier, more social. More bonded with the Vineyard. The Ping-Pong club has become just like a family.”

For more information on the Martha’s Vineyard Table Tennis Club, call 508-627-7902 or 508-696-6303.

Comments (2)

Pensacola, Florida
We always look forward to Alina's return in the winter months here. As you say, she is a fun loving competitor.
December 3, 2015 - 7:40am
Eddie Parker
Boynton Beach,Fla.
Alina is not only a great competitor ,she is even a better sportsperson,always willing to share her knowledge with a smile.
January 15, 2016 - 11:16am