At first glance, she looks an able athlete competing against opponents on equal footing on the table tennis board, but 18-year-old Afia Tasnim Tushin is an intellectually-challenged player taking part in the 38th National Table Tennis Championships being held at Shaheed Tajuddin Ahmed Indoor Stadium.
It is not unheard of for disabled or intellectually-challenged athletes to participate in such competitions but the grade eight student of a special-needs school from Rangpur drew the media's attention with her first-round performances yesterday.
Winning the first round in the women's singles and mixed double's events was a big achievement for Tushin, who beat Gungun of Tangail 3-2 in the first round of the women's singles before suffering a 0-3 defeat at the hands of Oishi of Bangladesh Army.
Pairing with Ruhul Amin Raju, she also notched a first-round win in mixed doubles with a 3-0 victory over Masud Parvez Babu and Shahnaz Parvin Sweety of Rajshahi but lost 0-3 to Akash and Tammana of Bangladesh Army in the second round.
"I feel very good," said a smiling Tushin. "I knew I would win the match [against Gungun] because I was confident. Oishi is a top player and I could have beaten her. But today [Tuesday] I felt sick, so I could not fight with her."
Despite the challenges that Tushin faces, she has a clear idea of how to become a champion in the next tournament.
"I know a player can become the champion by winning six matches. If I can win at least five matches, that will be a big achievement for me," said the teenager, who started playing table tennis at the age of 11 under the guidance of her father AKM Jahangir Alam, a level-2 table tennis coach.
However, Tushin cannot remember the score during games and banks on her father's expressions to realise how she is doing. A smile helps her understand that she is playing well.
"She has strong points, such as her forehand and backhand, but she can't remember how many points she earns and what next step she needs to take. Then she looks at my face and tries to understand her position in the match. After winning the first game on Monday, she ran around the court which other athletes generally don't do," said a proud Alam, who was very pleased seeing his daughter's happiness.
"I also represented Rangpur at the junior and national level from 1979 to 1988 and my elder daughter -- Turbina Rukaiya -- is also a national team player. So, we have brought Tushin into table tennis. However, the main reason for bringing her into the sport was to engage her in physical movements and attempt to increase her level of intelligence," her father said, adding that Tushin studied with general students up to grade seven before being admitted to a special-needs school -- Proyas -- in grade eight this year.
"I'm proud of my daughter because she is representing Rangpur after being selected from the qualifying test. She has not been given the opportunity as a mentally-challenged athlete. Rather, she became first among 10 participants during her first trial in 2017 and this time around she became third among six players to secure her place in the Rangpur team."
However, Alam admitted that there were challenges to caring for his daughter every day.
"What we generally do is that we always keep her in our sights because she doesn't know what is going on or whom she is speaking with. It is a big task to watch her round the clock every day," said Alam.
Tushin narrowly missed being part of the Bangladesh contingent in the just-concluded Special Olympics in Abu Dhabi last month but Alam added that he was expecting his daughter to one day represent Bangladesh in the event.