The stakes were as high as they had ever been for 14-year-old Estee Ackerman, with her dream on the line and a tough opponent standing in her way.
But this is where the table tennis prodigy from West Hempstead has spent the majority of her six-year career: on a daunting stage that she has learned to handle with poise and a smile.
“I just told myself, ‘Play slow, play smart, and enjoy the moment,’” said Ackerman, who is a freshman at Yeshiva University High School for Girls in Holliswood, Queens. “’Have some fun.’”
As the 14th seed in the U.S. Olympic Table Tennis Team Trials at the Greensboro Sportsplex in North Carolina yesterday, Ackerman lost, 4-1, to No. 5 Prachi Jha, an 18-year-old from California.
After winning the first game, 11-6, Ackerman dropped the next four, 11-4, 11-5, 11-6 and 11-3, and was eliminated from the first day of play.
“I just gave it all I got,” Ackerman said. “Winning that first game, I think it showed something.”
Added her father, Glenn Ackerman: “It definitely raised some eyebrows.”
She will have another opportunity on Friday to advance to a North American Olympic qualifier in Toronto in April with a chance to represent the United States in the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Ackerman comes from a family of Orthodox Jews and said she would not compete on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath. When Rabbi Yosef Plotkin of Chabad Jewish Center of Greensboro got wind of Ackerman’s story, he made sure to pay her a special visit and give her a blessing before her match on Thursday. “It was so nice,” Ackerman said, “and another thing I’ll be able to tell people about back in New York.”