Table tennis star Francis David ‘Sky’ Llewellyn still dominates despite age

Vincentian Francis David “Sky” Llewellyn.
Photo by Marcia Kirton-Caesar

Despite myriad medical issues and his advancing age, Vincentian table tennis star Francis David “Sky” Llewellyn is still dominating the table tennis court and does not consider age as a hindrance in doing so.

“Besides medical setbacks, just being able to compete is a miracle,” Llewellyn, a Crown Heights, Brooklyn resident, who gets up very early four times a week – Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Thursday – as well as on Friday evenings to practice his craft, at the Brownsville Recreational Center in Brooklyn, told Caribbean Life on Sunday.

Llewellyn, 63, said he also competes in several championships in New York, such as the Westchester Table Tennis Tournament, primarily “to stay fit and to keep the brain sharp.”

In 2000, Llewellyn said he established the Caribbean Basin Table Tennis Initiative of North America, Inc., a not-for-profit organization, based in Brooklyn, with the goal of promoting the sport of table tennis in the Diaspora and “perpetuating the cultural benefits of the sport.”

He said the organization instituted the annual Caribbean UN Ambassadors Table Tennis Tournament in which top Caribbean and US players vied for the Ambassadors’ Cup.

But, in 2007, Llewellyn said he encountered his first medical issue, when a blood clot was discovered in his left leg, running from his ankle to his groin.

He said this was “just the beginning”, as, in 2017, his right hip was replaced, followed by a stroke a year later, then a second hip replacement in 2019.

During the stroke, Llewellyn said it was discovered that he had atrial fibrillation, often called AFib or AF, the most common type of treated heart arrhythmia, according to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Intervention (CDC).

The CDC said an arrhythmia results “when the heart beats too slowly, too fast, or in an irregular way”, and that “the risk for AFib increases with age.”

The CDC also said that high blood pressure, “the risk for which also increases with advancing age, accounts for about 1 in 5 cases of AFib,” and that AFib increases a person’s risk for stroke.

But, despite what could have been major medical setbacks, Llewellyn said he “made miraculous recoveries,” going on to win the National Mixed Doubles title in St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ 2022 National Championships, with his partner, Unique Velox.

Born in Kingstown, the Vincentian capital, on Feb. 23, 1960, Llewellyn said he was introduced to table tennis by his cousin, Anthony Llewellyn, and his friend, Hilford Hurst, when he was 10, adding that “the rest, as they say, is history.”

He said he won his first national championship in St. Vincent and the Grenadines at 13, capturing both junior and senior titles.

Llewellyn said he then went on to represent the country on the national team from 1972 to 2008, and that the team won six sub-regional Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) Team Championships and several Winward Islands Championships.

During his tenure with the St. Vincent and the Grenadines National team, Llewellyn said he won 28 personal titles in the men’s singles, doubles, mixed doubles and men’s team championships.

In 1979, Llewellyn said he migrated to the United States, where he continued to compete, winning several tournaments, including the Long Island Open and The Pensacola Open.

In addition to his accomplishments, Llewellyn said he holds Level II Coaching Certification from the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF).

He currently serves as chief executive officer of the Brooklyn-based Caribbean Table Tennis Initiative of North America, Inc. and president of the Brownsville International Table Tennis Club.

Llewellyn said he also still finds time to coach young people in an after-school program in Brooklyn.

At 63, Llewellyn said physicians are “amazed” at his recovery and “extraordinary physical condition.”

He said his ability to continue competing and winning is “a testament to the benefits of physical conditioning, exercise and healthy lifestyle.”