What's impressive about Natalia Partyka is not that she qualified for the Olympics for the second time running -- scores of athletes have returned for the 2012 London Summer Olympics -- but that she is able to compete with her able-bodied peers despite her handicap.
Partyka was born without a right hand and forearm.
The 23-year-old Paralympian who hails from Poland made it to the final 32 in the women's singles table tennis event, but was eliminated after losing to the Netherlands' Jie Li. Partyka, who faced Li twice before and lost, will have a chance to redeem herself next Friday during the women's team table tennis tournament.
Partyka is one of two athletes, along with South African runner Oscar Pistorius, who will compete in both the Olympics and the Paralympics this year. Though she's never medaled at the Olympic Games, she took home gold for singles table tennis and silver for team during the 2008 and 2004 Paralympics.
Partyka's table tennis dreams stem from her childhood desire to beat her big sister. At 7, she followed her sister Sandra to a table tennis hall in Gdansk, Poland, and practiced gripping the paddle with her left hand, using the crook of her right elbow to serve the ball.
"Soon my sister’s trainer was telling me to come along to practice with my sister. It really excited me. We would play at home, bouncing the ball against walls and on the kitchen table," Partyka told MSNBC Today.
By 11, Partyka was heading to her first Paralympics, representing Poland. She was the youngest player to compete in any sport. Though she lost at the 2000 Paralympics, Partyka was eager to compete in Athens, where she won her first medal.
“I dream about achieving in the Olympics what I’ve achieved in the Paralympics. But I still have a long road ahead of me,” she said.
“There is nothing more beautiful than standing on the highest podium and listening to 'Dabrowski’s Mazurka,'” Poland’s national anthem, Partyka told MSNBC Today. "To hear that anthem, it would all have so much meaning. It's a beautiful moment where time stands still. That’s why it's worth fighting, and worth the sacrifice.”
See more photos of Partyka in action in the gallery below.
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