Debutant Ropponen determined to make it big despite disability
2016 European Olympic Qualification - Men
Berlin, Germany, January 8, 2016. A volleyball player has made the headlines in Finland, a country where ice hockey players and cross country skiers are usually in the spotlight. Antti Ropponen is only 20 years old, and what makes him different from all other players competing at the men’s European Olympic Qualifier is that he is deaf. This disability does not prevent him from pursuing a career in competitive sport and the tournament held at Max-Schmeling-Halle in Berlin coincided with his first caps with Finland senior national team.
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Antti and his story first rose to international prominence in 2012 when he represented Finland at the CEV U18 Beach Volleyball European Championship held in Brno, Czech Republic. However, Volleyball is the sport he is wishing to focus on. “Back in 2012 I played beach volleyball during the summer just for fun and ended up winning the junior national championship, and was chosen to represent Finland at that competition in the Czech Republic,” Antti recounts. “Though I still enjoy playing Beach Volleyball, my plan is to focus and concentrate entirely on Volleyball.”
Antti started playing Volleyball when he was only eight years old, so well before suffering from hearing loss and he started using a special aid. “Carpe diem has become my motto. I want to send a message to all those who may have to deal with a disability: as long as you stay yourself and work hard, you can achieve great things. I am living my life day by day but always reach out for ambitious goals.”
Ropponen made his debut in Berlin. “It has been a great experience, especially for someone like me who is still very young. We have come here and had the chance to play and see some of the best teams in the world, so it has pretty much been a learning experience for me. We are a bit disappointed with the way our matches went considering we lost three in a row and although we had our chances to win some sets, we did not use them.”
Antti has also been enjoying the support of more than 1,000 Finnish fans who had travelled down to support the team. “They are like a seventh or eighth player and their support really means a lot to us. As a player who is supposed to deliver a good performance, you really get an extra boost of energy from their chants. What matters the most, is that the fans are always at our side and never stop supporting us even when the results are not that good.”
Ropponen plays as opposite and mentions Brazilian André Nascimento as his main inspiration. “He is probably not the best opposite player in the world but he is quite similar to me, both physically and technically. He is some kind of a role model for me. As for our coach Tuomas Sammelvuo, he is the perfect mentor for me at this stage of my career because he has such wealth of experience to share with young players.”
Ropponen reveals some curious facts about the adjustments required by using his hearing aid: “Sometimes I feel a bit disturbed when it gets really loud or very noisy in the competition hall. I am left-handed and carry this aid on my right ear, which means that when I stand on the court I can better hear our coach’s instructions rather than my teammates who are maybe swearing or being angry at me,” he says with a smile. “Regarding the interaction with the other players, I am very good at lip-reading. Many people with my disability do the same as you need to make up for it in some way, so sometimes I can easily understand what a player standing on the other side of the court or quite far away from me is saying.”
“To young people who may sometimes feel frustrated or the difficulty of dealing with an impairment, I would like to send a simple message: work hard, aim high because even things that may look impossible or out of reach can happen,” Ropponen said.
After the European Olympic Qualifier in Berlin, he has already set his sight on continuing his development as a volleyball player as well as on participating in other major competitions such as the World League and the EuroVolley. Antti Ropponen’s journey has just begun…