Published on 4 August 2023

Former champion Simon Heaps continues to play table tennis from a wheelchair and hopes his story can inspire others living with diabetes.


Simon Heaps has represented Great Britain as a para table tennis player. Here he tells DRWF how he has pursued his sporting ambitions, despite his disability and type 1 diabetes diagnosis.


From the age of eight, Simon took up table tennis, following a strong line of players from his family, and soon progressed to represent England, making his junior international debut when he was 12-years-old.


However, it was around this time that Simon noticed symptoms that were affecting his training – and he was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.


Simon said: “I was always tired, not surprising, as I was training seven days per week and fitting in schoolwork around my schedules. “I was constantly thirsty, again not alarming because I needed to be hydrated at all times because of my sport. I was not sleeping well because I was constantly going to the toilet during the night and had lost weight although this was put down to my training regime.”

Table Tennis Personal Story Simon Heaps 2022 002

Being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes did not stop Simon from playing table tennis, and if anything, his international career went from strength to strength, including a European Cadet Champion title at under 14 level.


Simon said: “I remember going to training camps with 80 chocolate bars in my bag as I need to keep my blood sugars from going low while I was training.”


An unexpected offer in 1970 saw Simon take his table tennis skills into a different environment – as he was invited to perform in exhibition during the half-time show with the world-famous Harlem Globetrotters on their tour across North America.


Simon said: “This was an offer that I could not turn down. I was independent and with the backing of my parents I boarded the plane to Los Angeles in September with a full suitcase of insulin and syringes etc to last me for the 9 months I would be there. These were certainly some great memories for a 17-year-old with type 1 diabetes.”


The tour saw Simon perform in front of hundreds of thousands of people – including a three-day residency with three shows a day at New York’s Maddison Square Garden.

Simon said: “The experience travelling and performing alongside Meadowlark Lemon and Curly Neal and the rest of the players was memorable, to say the least. We performed in all the biggest arenas in USA and Canada.”

Over the last half a century Simon has witnessed many changes in the evolution of diabetes management.


Simon said: “Diabetes treatment has changed a lot, and for the better I must add. I started out using a glass syringe that needed to be boiled and glass phials from where you had to draw up your insulin. Now disposable pens are the norm and blood monitoring devices mean constant finger pricking for many is a thing of the past.”

Simon retired from playing table tennis in his early 30s. When he was 60, he took up the sport once again, and represented Great Britain in his age category and winning national and international titles, before retiring.


In 2019, after some time spent living in Florida, Simon returned to the UK, when he was admitted to hospital with diabetes-related neuropathy complications with his right foot – that led to his leg being amputated (in 2022 his other leg was also amputated).


Simon aimed to turn the situation around: “I immediately saw this as an opportunity to get back into table tennis. I could not stand up, but I could play in a wheelchair. From my hospital bed I joined British Para Table Tennis and sourced my first sports specific wheelchair from a charity that I had previously helped.


“I was discharged from hospital five days after my amputation and was playing table tennis again, albeit from a wheelchair, within a week.”


“The rest is history. I made my Great Britain debut in Costa Rica in December 2019.


“2022 was my big year as I entered the world ranking list at number 46 in my category.”

A person performing a blood sugar check


The latest developments in Simon’s table tennis career have provided some of his biggest successes, with various medals and titles won in competitions around the world.

Simon said: “I am now the 11th highest ranked player in Europe and firmly established as Great Britain No. 2. I have upcoming tournaments in USA, Saudi Arabia, Chile and Argentina, France and then in December in Thailand.

“Since I started that tournament in Costa Rica in December 2019, I have self-funded when representing Great Britain and even purchase my own Team GB kit. I have raised and spent in excess of £75,000 since I started in June 2019 and this is done through charity grants, small sponsorship, raffles on social media and donations online (you can support by looking up my GoFundMe page). I have lost both of my legs and have represented my country in multiple events around the world but the hardest opponent I face is financial and without money I cannot continue.

“Through my experiences I have learned that there is nothing you cannot do with type 1 or type 2 diabetes.

“Be positive, live life with a smile even when things are not always going the right way.

“I hope my story inspires you to do something with your life even in the face of adversity.”


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