By Staff Writer Sumani Alem
Junior Emily Han began her badminton career at nine years old at United Badminton Club in Fremont. At first, she lacked interest in the sport, as she was forced to train every day by her mom — also a badminton coach. It was after she began playing tournaments that she developed a passion for badminton and took her own initiative to improve. “But after I started winning, I recognized that I liked this feeling. So I started trying by myself without having my parents tell me to train. That’s when I actually started to genuinely love the sport and improved immensely,” she said.
Today, Han is currently ranked in the top 10 in Women’s and Mixed Doubles junior divisions by USA Badminton. Throughout her career, she has won many national tournaments, allowing her to compete for three consecutive years (2017-2019) in international tournaments, including the Pan Am Junior Badminton Championships in Canada and Brazil. She has been part of MSJ Badminton since her freshman year and placed second for singles in the 2019 NCS and MVAL Championships. Her journey to national rankings was not a straight path to success; she trained through workouts at a young age and still struggles to remain calm and persistent in tense competitions.
Balancing both school and practices has been a struggle for Han these past few years. Although training and competing have temporarily stopped due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she used to spend nearly two hours at practice daily. Additionally, she often visited the gym for weight-lifting exercises or woke up in the early hours of dawn for a quick run. However, Han believes all the time she devotes to the sport is worth it. “Every single day that I woke up to run in the morning, I thought ‘I don’t want to do this, but I have to do it’ … Staying motivated to go to the gym as a 13-year-old was difficult. So much hard work has gone on behind the scenes, but in the end, it all pays off,” she said.
One of her proudest moments in her career was playing at the 2019 Badminton World Federation (BWF) World Junior Championships in Kazan, Russia, where teams from 43 different countries competed. Representing Team USA in the Mixed Doubles division, she and her partner met up weekly to practice their rotations. Since Han usually played singles prior, she had to change her training style to focus on mixed plays for this competition. Although Han and her partner lost in the second round, she still had a valuable experience. Han said, “I got to see so many good players from different countries, especially Asian countries. During summer in Pan Ams, we only played people from countries in the Americas, such as Brazil and Peru. At [the tournament], the Japan and China teams are so good, and it is intimidating to even be on the same bus as them. Although I missed Homecoming Week for this competition, I loved the experience.”
Staying headstrong in competitions is perhaps the most difficult challenge for Han. To qualify for the 2018 Pan Am Junior Badminton Championships, she had to place in the top four in the 2018 USA Badminton Junior International Trials. Han was nervous, but she was able to beat a higher ranked player — whom she had previously lost multiple times against — 21-16 and 23-21, securing her spot in Brazil. She said, “You have to be mentally strong. So many unpredictable things can happen. You’re winning, and then suddenly, you’re losing. You have to be able to say calm. Your coaches will be there for you, but you must be able to solve your own problems.”
Whether it is training at 6 a.m. at 13 years old or sacrificing holiday breaks to compete around the world, Han has found success through her constant hard work. She encourages those who are interested in badminton — even if they are unconfident in their abilities — to pursue this fun and rewarding sport. “At first, play recreationally with friends or family. After that, start training at a local badminton club. Always persist, and develop an interest in the sport first, so it’s easier to start,” she said.
Cover image courtesy of Emily Han