Putting the Bad in Badminton

I am not what you would call an athletic person.

I rarely play sports. The nearest I get to anything that requires stretching or exercising would be running, which I only do when it rains, I’m late for work, or if I’ve eaten too much curry and the men’s room is a considerable distance.

Even then I don’t run that often. So it came as no surprise that I almost had a seizure playing badminton the other night.

OK, “seizure” is a bit much. But when your sweaty t-shirt feels like cling wrap and you’re gasping like a de-housed goldfish, something is amiss, no?

I must admit, I strolled onto the court fairly confident. Like, come on, it’s badminton – how hard can it be? You just hit the shuttlecock back and forth until it falls on the floor, gets stuck in the net, or smacks you in the face because you were trying a fancy forward swing but, you ain’t the man.

I clearly miscalculated the activity. A sport is a sport and at some point will require you to do the unthinkable, like move your arms, bend your knees, or explain that sweat in your eyes always messes with your contact lenses.

I was hoping there wouldn’t be much of that. Perhaps I could hit incoming shuttlecocks with sheer mind power instead of actually having to use a racket, imagination, and good ol’ fashioned human strength?

Wrong again.

I played my friend, a big-framed Finnish software engineer who looks like Philip Seymour Hoffman. The kind of guy who thinks best with his chin firmly between his thumb and index finger. He speaks with a sophisticated European accent, regularly dispensing professorial observations on technology and theology, his twin passions, while peering over steel-rimmed glasses and sipping black, unsugared coffee.

He’s also an expert at badminton and approached the game with such stoic calculation, such efficient, self-assured Finnishness, I felt I was playing a James Bond villain who kills his enemies by making them sweat to death on court.

“Do you expect me to lose?”

“No Mr. Abbey, I expect you to die!”

He basically stood in one place, returning my volleys like he was swatting gnats. Meanwhile, I had to scramble up and down my side of the court to pick up flaming shuttlecocks before they melted through the floor.

At one point, after stooping to retrieve a smoldering projectile, I stretched, recalibrated my spine, and let out a parched sigh that reverberated throughout the court like an echo from the lowest pits of hell. I then turned to my friend to see him sniff. Yeah, he sniffed. No cracking of the neck, no wiping of the brow with his forearm. He wasn’t even sweating. He just sniffed and stared at me, waiting for my serve.

I lost the game. We didn’t actually score it but from the way I dragged myself off the floor, and the way my friend stayed to play a few more games in quick succession, I knew the real winner.

Just a few suggestions for anyone else whose gut is the size of an American football, has poor leg muscles, and thinks he can kill at badminton when he’s better off at Scrabble with the kids:

Learn how to perform CPR on yourself.

It also helps to play someone just as sports naive as you. Avoid opponents who are calm, extremely intelligent, and grew up in a country that feeds this to their kids.

Now, if I can just learn how to breathe without swallowing my tongue, I might be able to beat him next match.

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