The image is of Kevin Ngyuen, who is a Franklin student. Nguyen is the “athletic phenomenon” described in the article. Photo by Juan Artiga.

Kevin Nguyen is a junior at Franklin High School as well as a national athletic phenomenon. Nguyen specializes in playing ping pong, also known as table tennis. Nguyen doesn’t just play table tennis, he excels at it, securing over a dozen major tournament wins. Some of Nguyen’s biggest accomplishments include winning the Oregon state championship four times, placing as a quarterfinalist in the U.S. Open tournament, and at one point ranking seventh nationally for all table tennis players under the age of 12. 

Despite Nguyen’s large trophy case, he has spent only a few years to get there; “I’ve been playing for five years,” Nguyen explained. His first introduction to the sport came from his family in 2017, and Nguyen instantly fell in love with the accessibility of the sport. Nguyen said that in table tennis, “You can play with anybody of all ages, there isn’t a certain physical requirement for it.” 

Nguyen preached the importance of dedication when he stated, “If you really want to achieve something you have to work hard, there are no handouts.” This mindset of hard work is coupled with a positive outlook: “For every loss there’s always a win,” says Nguyen. This frame of mind helped to guide Nguyen through tough losses, and led Nguyen to pick up coaching and create his own table tennis club; “I opened up my own club around two years ago,” elaborated Nguyen. 

The Ping Pong Lovers, or PP4K, is the club Nguyen uses to teach up-and-coming players the same lessons he learned when beginning his table tennis career. He encourages his players to  “not be scared to ask players to hit or train.” One problem Nguyen often encounters as a mentor is that players and coaches tend to be nervous when they first start playing. He added that “they are hesitant to challenge someone to play, as they aren’t as exposed to the environment.” In order to combat this, he preached the importance of “getting out of your comfort zone and meeting new people.” 

In addition to playing and coaching, Nguyen has also interviewed many icons of the sport over the years, such as Swedish Olympian Matilda Ekholm and Sean O’Neill, the United States of America’s Table Tennis organization’s high-performance director. Nguyen also maintains an immense social media presence by posting recordings of sets on his Youtube channel, “Ping Pong Lovers;” publishing recordings of interviews on his website “Kevin Nguyen;” and posting trick shots onto multiple social media platforms that garnered millions of views. Nguyen has been featured on KOIN6 and KGW, along with multiple other sports media groups like House of Highlights, Bleacher Report, and ESPN. 

Not only is Nguyen a table tennis champion, but he also excels in playing both piano and court tennis. “I have played [piano] since I was three, I’ve also started to pick up [the] guitar,” Nguyen explained. Similarly to his table tennis career, he has acquired  impressive accolades due to his skill on the piano. In 2013 and 2014 he won the Oregon Music Teachers Association (OMTA) Classical Festival competition, and in 2014 and 2015 he also won the OMTA Romantic Festival competition along with becoming champion at the 2015 OMTA Baroque and Contemporary competition. In addition to Nguyen’s stellar piano and table tennis play, Nguyen has recently begun playing court tennis. Shifting from table tennis to regular tennis was definitely a big change: “The court is just so much bigger,” Nguyen said. Despite these changes, Nguyen has still managed to excel. “The first day I played it was tryouts, and I somehow made varsity,” Nguyen explained. 

Alongside Nguyen’s competitive accomplishments, his peers hold him in high regard due to his character. Dominic Papworth, a junior at Franklin, is a student athlete himself, and a good friend of Nguyen’s. Papworth and Nguyen first met in freshman year. “We had physics class together freshman year online school…ever since then we got really close. We’ve been friends ever since then,” Papworth described. As a freshman, Nguyen’s virality was a captivating thing for Papworth to witness: “It was just so cool to see [Nguyen] have so many opportunities, sponsorships, interviews with Olympians he just had a lot of connections,” Papworth described. However, the thing Papworth noticed most about Nguyen was his character, as he came to understand that “[Nguyen is a] a great human being.” It became clear to Papworth that “If I needed saving I know Nguyen would [save my life] too,” he explained. Not only was Nguyen’s character inspirational for Papworth but so were Nguyen’s musical abilities.“Kevin inspired me to want to learn an instrument,” said Papworth. 

Going forward, Nguyen’s goal is to potentially go pro playing table tennis. While the professional scene may be tough, as Nguyen described that “often the coaches get more money than the players,” Nguyen’s experience, skill, and hard work will drive him to succeed in whatever he sets out to do. However, currently, Nguyen is solely focused on growing his club, having fun, and hopefully, as Papworth puts it, remaining “talented, humble, and cool.”

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