Tommy Urhaug en route to the top prize in London
Photo By: Gaël Marziou
A chance to hold a precious medal, not just any medal, a gold medal from the London 2012 Paralympic Games; that was the thrill for young people at the Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego on Sunday 25th November 2012.
Norway’s Tommy Urhaug, accompanied by Gorazd Vecko, the Performance Manager for the Great Britain Paralympic Table Tennis Team, visited the hospital to meet children who are either awaiting operations or recovering from surgery.
In London, Tommy Urhaug won the Men’s Singles Class 5 event. He is in San Diego to compete in the Mike Dempsey Memorial Tournament, which starts on Thursday 29th November.
Gorazd Vecko, who performs a host of roles in the world of Para Table Tennis, is on duty in the west coast American city in the role of Technical Delegate.
It was for both a most salutary experience.
“The children responded when Tommy showed them his medal”, sighed Gorazd Vecko. “It was really very difficult, very difficult to see the children in that situation.”
Winning gold medals in Paralympic Games demands a great deal of courage, for both Gorazd Vecko and Tommy Urhaug, the courage the children in the Rady Children’s Hospital showed, tugged at the heart strings.
The Rady Children's Hospital is the largest children's hospital in California in terms of admissions and the sixth largest children's hospital in the whole of the United States.
It cares for more than 82 per cent of the region’s children. In 2011 it admitted over 150,000 children. Large numbers and as a result a large staff is need. The hospital has 700 physicians, more than 1,000 nurses, nearly 4,000 employees, 450 active volunteers and more than 1,200 auxiliary members.
A massive undertaking, the establishment performs a role that cannot be underestimated.
Gorazd Vecko was visibly moved by the visit; he is a caring person who is motivated by seeing those with disabilities achieve, not by the almighty dollar.
“The athletes are my heroes; how hard they practise, I treat them like sportsmen and sportswomen”, said the man whose father was one of Europe’s best in the 1960s.
Edvard Vecko lined up alongside Zlatko Cordas, Istvan Korpa, Anton Stipancic and Dragutin Surbek in Yugoslav outfit that won the bronze medal in the Men’s Team event at the 1969 World Championships in Munich.
Furthermore, at the European Youth Championships in 1962 he won the Junior Boys’ Doubles title with Istvan Korpa and in 1968 in Lyon, donned the Men’s Doubles crown with the late Anton Stipancic at the European Championships.
Head Coach of Para Table Tennis Team
“My father became Head Coach of the Slovenian Para Table Tennis Team in 1996, later in 2000 I took over”, explained Gorazd Vecko.
Slovenia was a part of the former Yugoslavia and had gained independence in 1990.
Now, after guiding Mateja Pintar to gold at the Athens Paralympic Games in 2004, Gorazd Vecko is in charge of matters in Great Britain and sees Para Table Tennis making strides.
He is delighted by working alongside André Scott, the organiser of proceedings at the Mike Dempsey Memorial Tournament.
“Everything is more professional and I’m pleased to be here in San Diego”, added Gorazd Vecko. “I’ve known André for over ten years, there has been many discussions about holding a tournament in memory of Mike Dempsey, now it’s happening.”
Mike Dempsey, a native of San Diego, sadly died at the age of 53 in 2009.
“We all have great memories of Mike Dempsey”, concluded Gorazd Vecko.
Never To Be Forgotten
The memories are indelibly imprinted in his mind; so is one other memory in particular.
It is the visit on Sunday 25th November 2012, to a very special centre for care, the Rady Children’s Hospital, it is for ever in the memory.
Holding the precious Paralympic gold medal brings joy to a young patient.
Tommy Urhaug (left) and Gorazd Vecko (right) at the Rady Children's Hospital in San Diego
Photo courtesy of Gorazd Vecko