“Their reaction is either ‘can you beat Forrest Gump? Are you Forrest Gump?’” Sterling said with a chuckle.
The 34-year-old Mira Mesa resident lost his right leg after getting hit by a car at age eight. He said he mostly played sports only on video games, until about 10 years ago, when he saw U.S. National Champion Andre Scott play in his wheelchair atUniversity of California, San Diego.
Scott suggested Sterling give table tennis a try, and in 2005, Sterling checked out the San Diego Table Tennis Association.
“I saw he had the love for table tennis that I have,” said Sterling’s coach Angelita Rosel-Bengtsson.
“So I asked him, ‘What are your goals?’ He said he wanted to be on the Paralympic team and I was like, ‘Whoa! That’s an awesome goal,’” said Rosel-Bengtsson. “I said, ‘If you’re that serious, I think we can help you, but you have to lose 50 pounds.’”
Sterling started to workout and said he has lost nearly 50 pounds.
“Back then, I didn’t even use a crutch when I played,” Sterling said. “I hopped around. So, it was extremely tiring. I couldn’t even last more than a game and a half. I’d have to sit down.”
Sterling overcame the endurance challenges. He won his first international gold medal last August at the Brazilian Open. In March, he’ll find out if he gets to represent the United States at the Paralympic games later this year in London.
“It would be a dream come true,” Sterling said. “I mean, once they saw how dedicated I was and what I wanted to do, they took me under their wing and trained me to give me the technical skill to be able to do it. I had the will, but I did not have the skill.”
Sterling’s skills have taken him all over the world. He said he played tournaments in ten countries last year and has also become the top-ranked player in the United States in his class (class 7).
“It’s absolutely amazing and it’s gone so fast that I can’t even keep up with where he is, what country he’s in, what medals he’s winning,” said Rosel-Bengtsson. “It’s extremely exciting.”
Sterling believes he’s proof that anyone can do anything.
“If there is something you want to do, but maybe you don’t have the skills to do it right away or you don’t know how to do it,” Sterling said. “You can find a way around it, to get what you want or to be able to accomplish your own goal.”