Athletes of Irvington: Rithika Oumapathy

Athletes of Irvington: Rithika Oumapathy

I started playing badminton in 2016 when I was around 11. My brother played first, so I basically just copied him when I went to play. It’s kind of funny, because I wasn’t really a sports girl. I was super short and small and my parents did not think I would play sports. But my brother played and my dad was like, “Your brother eats all these vegetables and he can play.” My 10-year-old self could not handle that, so I was like, “Okay, when I eat my vegetables, I’m going to go play,” and it worked. 

I started at really beginner-level classes for a couple of months. It started around September 2015, so it was a pretty late start. Then, I got moved up to the competitive team, and that’s when I learned about tournaments and how big of a deal they were. And then it just snowballed from there. I began competitive training around the summer of 2016, and I just trained at least 20 to 24 hours a day.  Every summer, there’s Junior Nationals, and in the summer of 2016, the Junior Nationals took place in Seattle. For maybe a month before that tournament, all we did was just train from around nine to five. Because we were suddenly going from that jump of training three hours a week to training that much after training for that long amount of time, it was kind of weird to go back to short periods of training, so it just stuck.

I’ve had some pretty small accomplishments when I started badminton. When I was younger, that was my prime. I remember that I went to this tournament in LA years ago, some time in 2017. And I think I got bronze or silver. That’s not that much of an accomplishment because it was a pretty small tournament, but I beat my “mortal enemy,” you could say, because egos run that deep when you’re young. That was one moment where I really felt the accomplishment. Badminton is really taxing mentally, so the only way you can keep yourself on track is by focusing on one singular goal or person. So when you’re training, you just focus on that goal you want to meet. And so that’s how I basically accomplished things. 

When I was younger, the long practice hours didn’t really bother me a lot. I didn’t really have anything to do other than badminton. But I think as I got older, I really felt it. I thought, “Oh, I’m in high school now, and I have badminton, I have classes, and I have APs to study for.” Then, around the beginning of quarantine, it was really hard for me to keep going. I didn’t really know how I was going to practice everything. But coincidentally, COVID-19 hit, and I wasn’t able to play. Not being able to play actually hurt more than whatever I’m handling right now. So now that I’m in junior year, and I have a lot more work than freshman year, I just think that it’s just a part of my life now, so I have to structure everything around it.

To be honest, I’m so lazy, and I’m not really built for sports, so keeping myself motivated during the pandemic was challenging. However, I have two coaches, and they’re like, “Zoom me every day. We’ll work out together.”  Dragging myself out of bed to attend those meetings and doing things like jump rope together kind of kept me sane, even though at the same time, I hated it. Right now I have training three hours a day, except on Monday and Wednesday, so I train for about 20 hours because it gets long on the weekend. And it mainly starts off with some footwork, working on skills, playing games, and then we do a lot of physical exercises.

I am on the school badminton team. It’s so different from club badminton because it’s more friendly. I really like the environment because it’s less mentally taxing. It was a new way of looking at badminton because, before I joined the badminton team, it was just training, playing, and going to tournaments, and you cry if you lose. But with school badminton, it’s different because you’re with less advanced people and more advanced people, so you’re meeting a wide variety of levels. It really made me rediscover how fun it is to play. 

I think my favorite part of badminton is the rally, because sometimes when you’re playing with someone really good, and a long rally happens, I really like the feeling of that. In the middle of the rally, there’s this moment when you hit a good shot, or just a pause when you’re going to the next shot that you’re thinking, “Oh my god, I made it this far.” Then sometimes, at tournaments, a crowd gathers, and that really boosts my ego. I really enjoy badminton, and it’s definitely something I would continue to play in the future.