Coming to terms with alopecia while trying to qualify for an Olympics took its toll on Toby Penty but the Tokyo-bound badminton ace believes adversity has made him stronger.
The 28-year-old will make his Olympic debut in the men’s singles after being named in the seven-strong Team GB badminton squad, having finished 23rd in the BWF Race to Tokyo rankings.
But the left-hander’s journey to Japan has not been plain sailing, having lost every hair on his body after being diagnosed with alopecia in November 2018.
And while Penty struggled come to terms with it at first, England’s No.1 insists that securing a spot on the plane to Tokyo has made a difficult period in his life all worthwhile.
“It means a lot because I was dealing with that through the whole of the Olympic qualifying period so to be trying to deal with both things at once was quite a struggle,” he said.
“The first five months of it was kind of okay as it was still a bit of a transition but after that it was quite difficult but I’ve now got to this point where I feel a lot more content with myself.
“I feel happier with myself than I did through that Olympic qualifying period and through the last few years, it kind of makes going through that battle that more worthwhile I’d say. I’ve got to the other side of it and to have that culminate in going to an Olympics is really great.”
A month after discovering his first bald spot, Penty noticed more and sought medical advice, resulting in a diagnosis of alopecia universalis - a much rarer form of the condition.
His type of alopecia affects the whole body and after experiencing a range of emotions, lockdown proved to be a blessing in disguise as Penty took the time away from the court to reflect.
“I remember I wouldn’t go outside without putting a hood up, literally having my eyes on the concrete in front of me, so it was a real struggle day-to-day,” he added.
“It was on court for a while as well but I feel like I’ve worked really hard to get past that in a few different ways and it’s not something that affects me very much daily anymore.
“I have the odd moment where you think about it, you reflect about it, but I feel like I’m a growing version of myself and it’s just a part of me I’ve come to appreciate more than anything.
“I feel like my empathy towards other people, towards myself is far greater. It’s a quality that I’m glad I’ve been able to get the last year and the time away from court was really big for me.
“I needed that space I think because before that, going through alopecia, going through Olympic qualifying it was very intense and was good to be able to take a step back.
“To be able to grow and get through that was really important for me looking back and it’s not great it took a pandemic for that to happen, but at the same time I’m grateful I got that space.”
Penty can now turn his attention to the Games fully fit, after a knee injury plagued his first half of the year.
He admits he’s not what to expect but will be bold from the outset.
“I have been struggling with a knee injury in 2021 but I feel really good about my game,” he said.
“Competitively, I can’t judge it at tournament level but I am positive about what I am getting out of myself.
“I want to compete against the senior players and see how far I can go. I don’t know what to expect, I am going with an open mind.”