Meet the table tennis prodigy and climate champion who has given Joe Biden advice

·4-min read
Anna Hursey is preparing for her second Commonwealth Games at the age of just 15
Anna Hursey is preparing for her second Commonwealth Games at the age of just 15

For most teenagers the summer after GCSEs is one of the most relaxing of their lives but Welsh table tennis sensation Anna Hursey is anything but a regular teenager, writes Paul Eddison.

The 15-year-old was this week included in the Team Wales squad for Birmingham 2022, which will be her second Commonwealth Games, with Hursey holding the record as Wales’ youngest-ever sportsperson at senior level.

She was just 11 when she helped the table tennis team reached the quarter-finals in Gold Coast in 2018 and is now setting her sights on going a step further this time around.

She said: “Last Commonwealths in Gold Coast were really fun. I enjoyed being with the team in the village, this time is going to be a home crowd and home experience so my family and friends will be there, so I’m really excited.

“I think I’ve improved a lot since Gold Coast and my results show that. I’ve been playing really well recently. I’ve been winning some world competitions for my age group.

“I’ve improved a lot and matured a lot and this Commonwealths, all our team has been working really hard, Team Wales, and we have all improved tons. So hopefully we can do a bit better than last time. Hopefully we can medal.”

Hursey’s table tennis success is only a small part of her story, however. Having been born with asthma that requires her to take tablets every day and take a pump with her wherever she goes, Hursey has understandably got a keen interest in climate change and reducing air pollution.

She is a Young Champion for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and has even had Joe Biden and the US Embassy getting in touch with her for advice on solving the climate change crisis.

That is a lot for a 15-year-old to take on board, not to mention squeezing media interviews between GCSE exams, but Hursey is taking it in her stride.

She said: “I’ve been involved for a couple of years (with climate change activism). Last year the US Embassy contacted me to help them with whatever they are doing. That’s because I’ve been a young champion for the UNFCCC.

“I’m not too sure how the UN thing came about. It was a couple of years ago but I think it was to do with my table tennis and I think they might have read somewhere that I have asthma. So I’ve always been interested and very passionate about climate change.

“I had a meeting with (the US Embassy) last year just to talk about what I could possibly do in the future. At the moment I am just focused on Commonwealths and exams and I’m still trying to study and learn about climate change because I’m still young. I’m carbon neutral myself and doing all I can at the moment and hopefully I can be more involved with them in the future.”

Anna Hursey combines her table tennis exploits with a role as a young champion for the UNFCCC
Anna Hursey combines her table tennis exploits with a role as a young champion for the UNFCCC

This summer, Team Wales, supported by funding raised by National Lottery players, will comprise of over 200 athletes in total, and having secured her place on the squad, Hursey is looking to capitalise on the once in a lifetime opportunity for medal success in her home country.

Hursey is acutely aware of the impact of National Lottery funding in fuelling her journey and added: “When I go to places like Portugal or China or any competitions, it’s great that the funding can come from the National Lottery, via Table Tennis Wales and Team Wales.

“It’s great because I wouldn’t be able to play my sport otherwise. I’m really thankful.”

Birmingham 2022 will be the first carbon-neutral Commonwealth Games, a move which Hursey sees as an important step.

The fact that she herself is also carbon neutral is not easy considering the international nature of her sport.

Currently based in Portugal, Hursey had previously been training in Tianjin in China before the Covid-19 pandemic forced her to return to the UK.

Her mother’s family are from Harbin in the north of the country with Hursey looking forward to seeing them again once Covid allows.

For now, her focus is on finishing off the last of her exams before turning her attentions to a Commonwealth Games on home soil.

Add in finding solutions to the biggest threat affecting the planet and it makes you realise that Hursey’s childhood really is a far cry from the vast majority.

National Lottery players raise more than £30million a week for good causes including vital funding into sport – from grassroots to elite. Find out how your numbers make amazing happen at: www.lotterygoodcauses.org.uk and get involved by using the hashtag: #TNLAthletes.