Florida Southern College’s history with the highest levels of international competition grew in August with the addition of a bronze medal from Paralympian Jenson Van Emburgh, who tied for third in the Class 3 table tennis event held in late August in Tokyo, Japan.
Van Emburgh’s accomplishment is the first Paralympic medal won by a Florida Southern College student.
This year’s Paralympics, which began shortly after the 2020 Olympic Games were completed in Japan, brought together more than 4,500 athletes from across the world to showcase their skills.
The Paralympics are governed by the International Paralympic Committee, which oversees the delivery of the Paralympic Games and supports members to enable Para athletes to achieve sporting excellence.
Van Emburgh suffered a spinal cord injury at birth that left him paralyzed from the chest down. He tried numerous sports, such as sled hockey, wheelchair tennis and wheelchair basketball before discovering table tennis.
This was Jenson’s first time competing at the Paralympics, and he recalled the emotions of the moment were immense.
“The first thing I noticed was the pressure and anxiety before the matches and during the matches,” Van Emburgh said. “I never felt anything like that and I don’t think you can feel anything like that unless you actually experience it. Before my matches, I felt like I had a 1,000 pounds on my shoulders weighing down on me. I shouldn’t have put pressure on myself, but it’s natural to feel that before such a big tournament.”
Jenson is the son of Florida Southern College men’s tennis coach Greg Van Emburgh.
It was Jenson’s father, who stayed behind in Florida, who the 21-year-old Florida Southern sophomore said helped him recover from a bad start in Japan.
“I lost my first match in group stages against (Xiang Zhai) 3-0 … I didn’t know what happened,” Jenson said. “I was talking to my dad about the pressure, he said ‘be in the moment.’ After that match, I had to play the No. 3 player, and I developed a routine before matches. I would go into the bathroom, call my dad and talk to him and he’d talk to me and get me mentally right and calm. That’s what I did. The next match I beat (Petr Svatos), then I went to the Round of 16, and I beat the No. 4 in the world from Germany (Thomas Bruechle) 3-2. I just kept the same routine, and he would set an alarm if I played at a time when it was really early, he’d be there to talk to me. I don’t know if I would have been able to do all that without him. He helped me mentally a ton throughout the tournament. It made me feel closer to him than he was since no fans were allowed, and family and friends couldn’t come. It was nice to feel he was there even though he wasn’t.”
Jenson, who is studying psychology at Florida Southern and is planning on resuming courses in the Fall ’21 semester, has numerous other medals from competitions across the globe.
In 2019, Jenson won the Class 3-5 USA Table Tennis title, and was named the USATT Wheelchair Athlete of the Year and the USA Para Wheelchair Athlete of the Year.
Also in 2019, Jenson won the gold medal at the Para Spanish Open Teams event, while winning silver medals in the team events at the Para Italian Open, Para Slovenian Open, Para China Open and a solo silver medal at the Parapan American Men’s Singles event.
Jenson also won gold medals at the 2018 Para Slovakian Open in teams and has a top finish at the Para US Open.
The US Junior Para National Team has selected Jenson as a member for nine consecutive years.
“We in the athletic department are thrilled for Jenson’s accomplishment, and we are proud to have such a talented young man as a part of our institution,” said Drew Howard, Florida Southern Director of Athletics and Dean of Wellness.
Florida Southern has also been represented in the Parapan American Games in 2011 when Tommy Chasanoff, who was an assistant in the Sports Information Office, won two gold medals in the 400- and 800-meter track and field events, while also racking up two silvers in the 100- and 200-meter races.