Written by David Grossman
For Markham’s Michelle Li, it’s all about staying enthusiastic and fulfilling her life goal of making a positive difference.
As the most successful female badminton player in Canada, and respectful rather than pompous, her plan is to be the best in the world.
Quite a challenge, but Li has had plenty of those in past – and excelled each time.
Balancing her schedule to accommodate studies at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Business with intense physical conditioning and performance on the badminton court, Li is mindful of the future.
Owning her own business is the career goal, but right now the focus is on making it to Tokyo in 2020 – and not as a tourist, but competing for an Olympic gold medal.
“When I was a kid, I saw posters and read about others – but never thought I would get so far,” she recalled. “I am passionate about badminton. Discipline, hard work and training – for me six hours a day, six days a week all contribute to making me a better player – but I have to pick it up even more.”
Already in the spotlight, and a celebrity to many, Li has this charismatic smile when talking about her success in badminton.
With the climb to the top getting tougher for Li, she always has time for others. Wherever she goes, there is time to meet and greet people often pausing for autographs and pictures while sending inspirational wishes to promising young players.
Playing with grace and style, Li is also very ambitious and poised.
Articulate and quick at making decisions, Li’s also the first Canadian Singles player, male or female, to reach the Top 20 in the world in the past quarter century. At one time, she placed as high as No. 11.
“It’s all about practicing, learning and boosting my confidence,” said Li, once a four-time Athlete of the Year in high school and admitting she didn’t start playing badminton until age 11 and didn’t take it seriously until late in her teen years.
“I played (badminton) for fun, with my mother, at a community centre. I was very active and loved playing. It was a family friend who thought I had some talent and suggested that I take lessons.”
Travelling the globe and competing in Hong Kong, China and Denmark is not just to improve her play and attract attention, but also to raise funds not easily available in Canada.
One stellar performance after another, and the relentless pursuit of excellence, helped her attract international attention winning gold medals at the Commonwealth and Pan Am Games. At the 2016 Olympics in Rio, Li didn’t do as well as projected, but has used that 17th place finish as motivation for improvement.
Toss in winning the Canadian Open Grand Prix, three titles at the Canada Winter Games and Li has been nothing short of a smashing success in a sport that is on the rise across the country.
Energetic, aggressive and sometimes tricky in her play, Li has a quick and deceptive drop shot as game shuttles reach their destination with perfection – surprising opponents as well as onlookers.
“When I was 17 years old, my first international competition was in Switzerland and it was so special to represent Canada,” said Li, who plans to coach the sport after her playing days come to an end. “I remember going to watch the pros, thinking that I wanted to be like them – but always one step better.”