“I see the world that it could be rather than what it is."
Nenad Bach, a Croatian American recording artist, and peace activist has led an impressive life propelled by his inspiring optimism. As a musician, he’s performed alongside Bono and Luciano Pavarotti and took the stage at Woodstock ‘94. He’s recorded with legendary artists such as Garth Hudson and Rick Danko from The Band and The Grateful Dead’s Vince Welnick.
As an activist, he was highlighted by the United Nations for his World Peace in One Hour campaign.
But in 2010 his life came to a temporary halt after being diagnosed with Parkinson's, a nervous system disorder affecting movement. According to the Michael J. Fox Foundation, it’s a progressive disease that slowly worsens over time.
Over a million people in the U.S. and 6 million worldwide are affected by the disease.
After being diagnosed with Parkinson's, Bach was invited by a friend to play ping pong. The next day he couldn’t believe how much better he felt. His cognitive abilities improved, his tremors were less intense, it was easier for him to walk and talk and he felt a greater “desire to live,” he told Upworthy.
Bach immediately made ping pong part of his wellness routine. When he can’t get to a physical ping pong table. No problem. Quest by Meta allows Bach to play ping pong with players around the world through a virtual reality headset and touch controller.
Image courtesy of Meta’s Community Voices film series
"Playing ping pong to me means freedom. Free of past. Free of future. Once you observe the rotating, spinning ball in the air, you don't think about anything else,” he said in the short film, “Nenad, Who Plays Ping Pong.”
Even Bach’s doctors noted the reversal in his Parkinson’s symptoms. “They told me to ‘continue doing what you are doing because it is obvious that you are improving,’” he told Upworthy.
Bach was excited to spread the word about his amazing transformation but he had a hard time convincing people. But, ever the eternal optimist, he kept pushing forward and on March 1, 2017, he held his first Ping Pong Parkinson’s sessions and “never looked back.”
This led him to create Ping Pong Parkinson (PPP) a non-profit organization based at the Westchester Table Tennis Center in Pleasantville, New York.
The organization believes that playing ping pong increases neuroplasticity in the brain which fosters the creation of neurons and connections through physical exercise. Around 25 to 30 “Pongers,” as they call themselves, show up at the table tennis center in Pleasantville each session and Bach believes there are over 1,000 Pongers across the world.
Over the past seven years, Bach has seen people transform through ping pong. Their “facial expression changes from when they arrive ‘til they leave,” he told Upworthy. “Plus some people start walking again,” he says.
Bach plays ping pong two to three times a week, either at the center or on Quest.
Quest is a great way for Bach to keep his ping pong skills sharp without having to leave the house which was invaluable during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. He also finds that playing with people from other countries helps him learn new techniques and strategies. “I learned a lot from others. Like my friend Lamine from Africa. He taught me how to play with different hands on a regular basis and challenge my brain,” Bach told Upworthy.
Bach doesn’t tell other Quest players that he has Parkinson's unless they ask about the PPP at the end of his username. The virtual reality technology has caught on with his fellow Pongers, who’ve already had a PPP World Championship played virtually over the system.
The musician is now back to playing guitar again, thanks in part to his love of ping pong. Recently, he recorded a song about his unique obsession.
Nenad Bach I Love Ping Pong Official Music VIdeowww.youtube.com
PPP’s goal is to help people with Parkinson’s improve their health and find greater joy in life. But Bach also hopes the organization will also promote the inclusion of people with neurodegenerative disorders in the Paralympic Games.
Every facet of Bach’s life has been defined by optimism. As a musician, Bach has written uplifting songs with a wry sense of humor. As a peace activist, he has been recognized by one of the most influential institutions in the world. As a humanitarian athlete, he has worked to help himself and others slow the process of a debilitating neurological disease.
“I see the world that it could be rather than what it is,” he told Upworthy.
To keep up with Bach and his fellow Pongers, follow the Ping Pong Parkinson page on Facebook.