After winning her first national title in 1977, in the under-14 grade, and having just won another, this time in the over-45 women's singles, Kadia Rice reckons it's time to finally retire from competitive table tennis.

She respectfully declines to answer the question about how old she is, but the game has been her life as a player, as a coach and as somebody who's done so much to get people involved in the sport.

She figured that after the national championships held in Tauranga earlier this month, and with the sport here having been revived from near dormancy, it is a good time to step back and reflect on an extraordinary career in the game.

That career began when her father Dennis, who played the game, was paid for a job with an old table tennis table that had been used for a fence.


He set it up outside the Rice house and Kadia played her father every night after his work.

The deal was that if she could beat him, he'd pay her $10.

So when was the first time she beat him?

"When I was 10."

Table Tennis New Zealand has been extremely diligent in keeping its records from national championships over the years up to date and the name K Rice or K Keller-Rice, as she now goes by after her marriage to top Swiss player and coach Dan Keller, has been prominent on those pages.

Table tennis champion Kadia Rice in action. Photo / John Borren
Table tennis champion Kadia Rice in action. Photo / John Borren

It doesn't take long to find the under-14 title in 1977, then the under-16 triple in 1979 when she won the singles, the doubles and the mixed doubles.

There were under-18 titles in singles, doubles and mixed doubles through to 1982 and her only national open title in the mixed doubles with Japanese star Hiroyuki Abe in 1984.

Fast forward to the year 2000 and she's back in this country after living in Switzerland for 15 years.


Then there are four over-35 women's singles titles during the next seven years, as well as a mixed doubles title in that age group, and then the over-45s this year means her total number of national titles over 41 years is, unofficially, 14.

It is, to say the least, quite a stellar career.

She was in New Zealand teams at World and Commonwealth Championships in the early and mid 1980s too, so now as an ex-player who has been there and done that, she can take a broad look at the state of the game here.

"I was pleased to see the good number that turned up," she says, reflecting on the 334 entries for the national championships.

"I would like to see more New Zealand-born players though, and that's why I've been in Kiwisport in Tauranga the last four years. That was at 20 schools around the Bay of Plenty, intermediates and colleges, to try to boost the local numbers.

"Because prior to that the Bay of Plenty Association was dormant, so it actually gave a good boost to our own association. Hence now they're running the AIMS Games table tennis and I think they had something near 180 children competed at the AIMS Games this year, and three quarters of them would be locals."

So looking back now, after more than 40 years in the sport at national and international level, is there any one match or one event which might stand out?

For that answer she goes back over 30 years to her time in New Zealand team at the World Championships in Switzerland, when they were playing the host nation in the team's event.

"Jan Morris and I beat them 28-26 in the deciding set of the doubles, and then I won the next two singles.

"I was quite a bit younger than Jan so it finally felt like I'd stepped up to be playing as well as Jan was playing."

And for the future?

"Well I have other hobbies, like singing and playing the guitar, and going boating, and I'd like to learn piano, and I still like travelling," she says with the enthusiasm of someone who may or not be in their late 50s.

She says she's retired.

But anybody whose every encountered this livewire woman will not be surprised to see her lining up in some team uniform this coming summer.