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 your average teenager.
The 15-year-old was this week included in the Wales squad for Birmingham 2022, which will be his second Commonwealth Games, with Hursey holding the record for Wales’ youngest sportsman at senior level.
She was just 11 when she helped the table tennis team reach the quarter-finals in Gold Coast in 2018 and is now aiming to go even further this time around.
She said: “The last Gold Coast Commonwealths were really fun. I enjoyed being with the village team, this time around it will be a home crowd and a 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 it. I’ve been playing really well lately. I won a few world competitions for my age group.
“I’ve improved a lot and matured a lot and this Commonwealths, our whole team has worked really hard, the Wales team, and we’ve all improved a lot. So hopefully we can do a little better than last time. I hope we can win a medal.
However, Hursey’s success in table tennis is only a small part of his story. Born with asthma that requires her to take pills every day and carry a pump everywhere she goes, Hursey is naturally interested in climate change and reducing air pollution.
She is a Youth Champion of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and has even been contacted by Joe Biden and the US Embassy for advice on solving the climate change crisis.
That’s a lot for a 15-year-old to take in, not to mention media interviews between GCSE exams, but Hursey takes it in stride.
She said: “I have been involved for a few years (in climate change activism). Last year, the US Embassy contacted me to help them with whatever they were doing. It’s because I was a young UNFCCC champion.
“I’m not sure how the UN thing happened. It was a few years ago, but I think it was because of 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. Right now I’m just focusing 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 i’m doing all i can at the moment and i hope i can get involved more with them in the future.
This summer, the Wales squad, supported by funds raised by National Lottery players, will feature more than 200 athletes in total, and after securing his place in the squad, Hursey is looking to capitalize on the unique opportunity to win a medal in his native country.
Hursey is acutely aware of the impact of National Lottery funding on her trip and added: “When I go to places like Portugal or China or to 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 practice my sport any other way. I’m really grateful.
Birmingham 2022 will be the first carbon-neutral Commonwealth Games, a move Hursey sees as a milestone.
The fact that she herself is also carbon neutral is not easy given the international nature of her sport.
Currently based in Portugal, Hursey previously trained in Tianjin in China before the Covid-19 pandemic forced her to return to the UK.
His mother’s family are from Harbin in the north of the country and Hursey is looking forward to seeing them again once Covid permits.
For now, she is focused on finishing the last of her exams before turning her attention to the Commonwealth Games on home soil.
Add to that the search for solutions to the greatest threat to the planet and it makes you realize that Hursey’s childhood is truly far from the vast majority.
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