Goessel native heading to Sydney?s Olympic Games

He may not be the phenom Forrest Gump was, but Goessel native Josh Bartel is making some serious noise on the Paralympic table tennis scene.

Bartel used momentum from a strong showing at the Pan American Games in Mexico City Nov. 5-13 to win a spot on the U.S. Paralympic team which will head to Sydney, Australia, this summer for the Olympics.

The Pan American Games catapulted Bartel from the eighth-ranked player in the world in his classification to No. 2.

Bartel?s road to the Pan Am Games and the Paralympics has not been an easy one. ?Disability? became been part of his vocabulary at an early age.

When he was 12, Bartel contracted a disease called Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis (JRA). The ailment affected some of his joints and other body systems, then turned into Systematic Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis, meaning all the joints of his body are affected.

After working to get back to a functional level, Bartel was in a serious van accident. Six of his fellow passengers were killed.

?I broke every limb in many places, but did not suffer any internal injuries,? Bartel said. ?I was bedridden for 10 weeks and then in a wheelchair for the better part of a year.?

When he finally rose from the wheelchair, crutches became the next challenge?and the many hours of rehabilitation.

His next obstacle was high school. Although JRA held him back physically, Bartel?s brain was not affected, and he won his first battle by finishing high school in 1990 in Augusta.

He then went to Kansas State University, where he graduated in 1994 with a degree in mechanical engineering and earned a master?s degree in 1997.

?Are we proud? You bet,? Bartel?s mother Gayle said. ?There was a lot of heartbreak and frustration during Joshua?s teenage years, but he set the tone and the example for the rest of us by refusing to feel sorry for himself and to accept his limitations.?

Josh has been playing table tennis since 1991 and currently trains at the Wichita Table Tennis Center. His regime includes weekly training sessions.

At the Pan Am Games in Mexico City, the 27-year-old Bartel became an ?instant? success story, winning two gold and two silver medals.

In Paralympics, players are classified according to 10 levels that based on the extent of their disability. The first five classes are wheelchair classes, while classes 6 through 10 are for those who can stand. The differences in classes 6 to 10 are based on the type of limitation in one or several limbs.

Bartel is in Class 7 because of limitations in his playing arm and both of his legs.

He began the Pan Am Games by earning a second-place silver medal in the Open Singles competition, which included all players in classes six through 10.

He followed that by winning gold in the Class 7 singles, where he competed against players of similar physical ability.

That win earned the United States a spot in the Olympic Games.

?We are saving out pennies for the trip and the privilege of watching him compete in Sydney next year,? Gayle Bartel said.

Bartel and his partner, Norman Bass of Los Angeles, also placed second in the Open Doubles competition, but won the Class 7 Doubles.

Bass has an amazing story of his own: He was the first African- American to play both professional baseball and professional football in the same season. Bass played for the Kansas City A?s and the Denver Broncos in the early 1960s.

?Since Norman and I have similar disabilities (he also has arthritis), we are in the same class,? Bartel said. ?Norman Bass is a legend himself.?

Although Bartel has experienced a lot of success in his sport, he said professional leagues and tournaments are out of the question.

?In the United States, there is no professional circuit,? he said. ?However, there are several professional leagues in Europe and Asia. Many of the top U.S. players train on these circuits, but the money is not good.?

Bartel said even if he were interested, he would never be able to play on a professional circuit because of his disabilities.

Bartel?s life is about a lot more than table tennis these days.

He was married in Las Vegas on Dec. 18 to Stephanie.

In the past 15 months, he has been to Paris, Houston, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Warm Springs, Ga., and Mexico City.

He is a part owner of three companies and works in Wichita for Franchise Services Company.

Bartel has also managed his time well enough to become a certified table tennis coach and umpire.

?My long-term goals are to continue playing and practicing and to help bring the sport to Kansas,? he said. ?I enjoy seeing others playing table tennis and I hope to help publicize the sport.?

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