Seven years ago, then ten-year-old Zaeem Arif stepped into the Prince Edward Island Table Tennis Association building for the first time to play his first round of table tennis.
Now, he's gearing up to represent P.E.I. at the upcoming table tennis tournament in the 2023 Canada Winter Games.
"I've seen my game got a lot better throughout those years, and I'm proud of myself. I have achieved at this level and I want to keep going," Zaeem said.
Zaeem is among the table tennis players who will be representing the Island at the Winter Games, which will run from Feb.18 to March 5.
For Zaeem, competing in the Winter Games feels like an honour.
"It kind of feels unbelievable, representing P.E.I. in such a big event," he said.
Zaeem added he loves going to tournaments to see players from other provinces and learn from their unique playing styles.
"When I look at players outside of P.E.I., they're like 10 times, 20 times better than me," he said, adding this motivates him to keep building his skills.
Game is fun, competitive
Maryum Arif, 13, has been playing table tennis for four years and comes to play at the Table Tennis Association as often as she can. She will also be competing at the Games in February.
"I thought at first it was really fun, and it's still fun, but competitive," she said. Playing in tournaments and meeting new people is one of her favourite parts of table tennis, Maryum said, because she can increase her ranking and learn new playing methods.
Maryum said she enjoys playing the fast-paced game, especially when matches go back and forth for long periods of time.
"You gotta be ready when the ball comes back so you can hit the ball in the other direction so the other person has to hustle," she said, adding it can also be scary.
Maryum said she's looking forward to competing in the Winter Games and hopes to win some games and try her best.
"It's hard, but when you keep playing, it'll get better and easier."
Continuing the game on the Island
This February will be Najam Chishti's tenth Canada Winter Games. As a coach and president of the P.E.I. Table Tennis Association, Chishti has been involved in table tennis since 1987 and is an international table tennis umpire.
"My passion is table tennis," he said, adding he asked for a table tennis table as a gift when he graduated the tenth grade and has been playing ever since.
"Nobody coached me. I went out and learned on my own," he said.
Table tennis is an Olympic sport, not a basement sport, Chishti said, adding a table tennis ball can travel up to 100 kilometres per hour.
Chishti said he's glad to pass on his knowledge as a coach and is excited to see his students improve their game and compete across the country.
"As long as they are happy and they are playing and they're improving their game, that's what I want."
Chishti works with his wife, Farida Chishti, who is the manager of the table tennis association. She said they love seeing veteran players who have since moved away coming back to visit and play a few games.
"These students who I have trained, they have become doctors, engineers, lawyers and they still want to play," he said.
"Now, hopefully, they'll bring their children to play here so that this table tennis sport can continue on the Island," he added.
In the coming months ahead of the Games, Zaeem said he'll be working to improve his skills and his mindset. And looking ahead, Zaeem said he dreams of becoming a professional table tennis player, and of one day representing Canada at the Olympics.
"We're just getting started, so let's hope we can keep it long-term," he said.