OMAHA, Neb. - Warren Buffett took a big risk on Sunday. But this decision didn't have millions of dollars at stake. The only thing on the table was personal pride.
In front of a cheering crowd - most of the fans were Berkshire Hathaway shareholders -Sunday at Omaha's Regency Court shopping center, the billionaire businessman faced 14-year-old U.S. table tennis star Ariel Hsing in a three-point exhibition.
Knowing he was outmatched from the beginning against the U.S. national team member, Buffett pulled out a giant table tennis racket, hoping it might aid his cause. It didn't help him much, but the crowd of 800 or so people who were jammed into the courtyard enjoyed his antics.
"It's really awesome," Hsing said of the experience. "I think I'm just so lucky and so fortunate to be able to have a once in a lifetime opportunity [to play Buffett]. And it was really fun. He's such a nice person - so down to earth."
After sparring with Buffett, Hsing dug in and competed against people from the crowd for the next couple of hours. One such person was Melanee Newkirk, from Los Angeles, who was in town for the annual Berkshire Hathaway shareholder meeting.
"It was a wonderful experience," Newkirk said with a smile. "I hit the ball on the table, and then she hit it back and I did not see it coming. And then she hit it back again, and I didn't see that either. So, I must go back and practice. I thought it was going to be a friendly game, but she is competitive."
That pretty much describes the work ethic Hsing learned from her parents.
"We think that talent can only go so far, and then, after that, it's all hard work," Hsing said. "You just have to work as hard as you can and persevere through the challenges."
"A lot of people talk about talent," said Ariel's mother, Xian Hua Jiang. "But hard work is one of the special talents."
Hsing's efforts have taken her and her San Jose, Calif.-based family across the globe. She has played in China, Japan, Canada, South Africa, Chile, Serbia, Spain and Sweden. Currently, she is preparing to compete in the 2010 World Championships in Moscow later this month, and she will represent Team USA at the inaugural Youth Olympic Games set for August in Singapore.
"Going all over the world and seeing the cultures and playing with all sorts of people - that's really great," Hsing said.
She is training especially hard this year for the events coming up in Moscow and Singapore, which means her days are quite regimented.
Her father, Michael, said she starts each day with homework - which is being handled this year mostly at home via independent study - and then she works on her game with a coach for two hours. After lunch she goes to the India Community Center in Milpitas, Calif., and plays two more hours, followed by physical training.
"It averages four to six hours of training per day, six days a week," Michael said. "We are very strict on that. Actually, some kids train seven days a week. We think that's not good for her."
Hsing began playing the game almost by accident. Her mother was a competitive player, and her parents often played table tennis at the India Community Center when Ariel was young.
"They couldn't find a babysitter for me one day, so they just brought me along," Ariel said.
She was 6 or 7 years old at the time, but she took to the game right away. In one of her first tournaments, she was hit above one of her eyes with the racket of another player who was competing at a table next to her.
"She was bleeding really bad," Xian Hua said. "An ambulance and fire trucks - everyone was coming [to help her]. We took her to the emergency room, and after the doctor gave her four stitches she said, ‘Mom, I want to go back and finish the match. I want to win the championship.' I said, ‘Oh my goodness, you cannot do that,' but from there we knew she was really competitive."
That competitive nature has helped her as she has climbed the rankings and dealt with the fact that other players are focusing on defeating her.
"I just pretend that I'm lower than them, and I really fight," Ariel said. "I don't think that I'm better than them. I just let go and play."
In addition to representing the U.S. national team at several international competitions this year, Ariel has two future goals in mind. She says college is important to her, and she wants to attend Stanford University. She is also thinking about the London 2012 Olympic Games.
"I would really like to make the Olympics," Hsing said. "It's always been a dream of mine because the Olympics are so important. And I would love to represent my country in them."
Story courtesy Red Line Editorial, Inc. Lee Warren is a freelance contributor for teamusa.org. This story was not subject to the approval of any National Governing Bodies.