Meet Joao Cardoso, a paralympic table tennis player from Portugal, living in France, and competitor in this year’s International Para Championship. In his 5 years of competing, Joao has earned many awards and titles, including the Medal of Sporting Merit and this year’s Vice Champion Class 6 at the Portuguese Para Championship. Life for a traveling table tennis player can be exhausting, but even more so when they are living with Charcot-Marie-Tooth (CMT). 

Joao started showing symptoms of CMT when he began walking, with clumsiness being the most apparent. At this time, CMT was relatively unknown in Portugal where he lived, which led to Joao’s symptoms being overlooked until the age of 9. At that age, he was formally diagnosed with CMT2A. Since there is no known family history of CMT before him, Joao is considered a de novo case. 

Joao has always been a sports enthusiast and he enjoys cycling, swimming, and football. He started playing table tennis at the age of 16, but after losing 90% of his hand strength by the age of 21, Joao was forced to quit table tennis and most other athletics. Then, at the age of 44, Joao broke his knee. Knowing that his CMT was taking over most aspects of his life, Joao was motivated not only to rehabilitate his knee but to take back control from his disease. 

Joao started playing table tennis again – he found that returning to the sport he loved fired up his competitive spirit and he wasn’t going to let hand weakness stand in the way. Joao adapted his playing style to account for his instability on his feet and inability to do certain movements with his hands. To help support his game, Joao straps his table tennis paddle to his hand. This allows him to make necessary movements and plays without relying on his grip strength. 

In 2018, Joao started competing in table tennis in France and he now plays at international tournaments all over the world. While many non-disabled players struggle to comprehend how he can play as skillfully as he does, Joao is the only one who truly understands all the hurdles he overcomes to play the sport he loves

Joao uses his talents to coach other players with disabilities. He also recently joined the CMTRF Ambassadors, hoping that his story provides guidance and hope for his fellow CMT community. Joao is a believer in looking after your mental health and reaching out for help when you need it. His advice for those with CMT is, “Adaptation and re-adaptation is the key to success!”. 

Follow along and support Joao’s journey on his Instagram

Help support Joao and the millions like him. Your donation directly supports the research that is necessary for finding treatments for all types of CMT.