When she was 7 years old, Xin Li discovered table tennis.
From that moment on, she dedicated herself fully to the sport. She quit all of her other extracurricular activities, the better to focus solely on table tennis.
At first, her mother was dismayed.
“You’re a girl,” Li’s mom said to her. “Are you sure you don’t want to do piano or dancing?”
“No,” Li responded. “I only love ping-pong.”
Despite her young age, Li did everything she could to master the sport. She went all in, training every day in her hometown of Shaanxi, China.
“Even during the summers, I never took a break from it,” said Li in an interview with The Beat.
Last month, Xin Li competed in the 17th U.S. Team Table Tennis Championships, held in Rockford, Illinois. She and her two teammates – Wang Jingxin and Wang Wei – ended up winning the Championship after competing against a couple hundred athletes from 18 states and 23 countries.
At just 22, Li is no stranger to championship wins.
Just before she turned 10, a coach sought her out and picked her to be part of a professional ping-pong team. She won her first championship the very first time she competed with them.
Li also joined the Shaanxi Provincial Team of China at age 15, and was the Shaanxi provincial Table Tennis women’s champion in 2013. She has won numerous women’s championship titles across various tournaments.
Four years ago, Li decided to move from China to California on her own, in the hopes of finding more opportunities to play ping-pong and improve her skills; she moved to the Bay Area at 18. At the time, she didn’t speak any English.
“I came here to play, but I realized I couldn’t communicate with anyone,” said Li.
So she decided to place her ping-pong aspirations aside and focus on getting an education.
“I feel, if you have more knowledge and education, it will help more to play ping-pong,” said Li. “Because with education, you mentally open up more.”
Li has spent the last several years diligently studying English and pursuing a degree in Business Administration at Ohlone College in Fremont.
She has since graduated, and now has placed her focus back on table tennis.
Last October, Li started practicing at the ICC Table Tennis Center on Milpitas Blvd. She trained hard with her team there before they went on to win the championship in Illinois.
“My teammates are such good players,” said Li.
Earlier this year, Li was Open Single Champion at the Fremont Butterfly tournament. She is also registered to compete in a few international tournaments in the coming months.
“I want to keep playing ping-pong until I physically can’t play anymore. Because I love it so much,” Li shared.
Along with practicing table tennis just about every day (she takes only 2-3 days off per month), Li also teaches the sport to children at the ICC Table Tennis Center’s summer camp.
Meanwhile, she misses her family in China tremendously, and thinks about them often. But she is driven each day by her love of the sport, and the excitement of competition.
“I want to encourage young people to start playing ping-pong,” said Li. “It’s good for you physically and mentally. It makes you stronger.”