STORY and PHOTOGRAPHY: David Stringer

Strategy and Endurance

"Strategy and endurance. And at the highest levels, badminton is one of the fastest games in the world."

The speaker is Vinh Chung, Sports Director for Badminton at the Transplant Games. He's explaining the differences between top quality competitive badminton and the more leisurely back yard variety that most people are used to. "The shuttlecock can travel at 100 miles per hour."

He describes how the rallies can go on for a long time, and moving your opponent from side to side while mixing in deceptive drop shots makes conditioning an important factor in the sport. Strategy for the casual back yard player consists of lobbing the shuttlecock back and forth, hoping your opponent messes up before you do. A winning shot might occur when it hits the wood of your racquet and dinks over the net.

Matches at the Transplant Games are best two out of three games to nine points. There is a scorekeeper, but players call their own lines. About 60 people participated in badminton, grouped into men's and women's divisions with a number of age brackets. Very few participated in the youth categories, and there were more than twice as many men competing as there were women.

Chung noted that there are a couple of the higher-level players in each bracket, a fact that was evident as the tournament moved toward the finals. Earlier rounds featured some of the more casual defensive games, which is not to say that participants were not trying their best to win. As Chung explained, "Badminton is the perfect sport for these games." People can compete at all levels.

Bud Strickline (56) defeated Bill Mackey (57) rather easily in a match that brought together two different levels of play. Strickline explained his strategy: "Either hit it hard right at their nose, or hit it where they aren't." Mackey's strategy was to improve his play for the next Transplant Games. Once the match was over, their conversation quickly moved away from badminton to a comparison of the medications both were taking.

Strickline, the lone West Virginian on Team Virginias, received a kidney from his son three years ago. While testing his three sons for a match he learned that his oldest, in his early 30's at the time and feeling fine, had the same disease that he was suffering from. The news was a blow, but they are staying on top of the situation. His middle son became his living donor. Days before the surgery Strickline pressured his doctor for a "guarantee" that his son would be OK. He was told that there is no such thing as a guarantee, but don't worry, he'll be fine. The transplant was done with no problem.

Mackey, from Minnesota, competes for Team Upper Midwest. He received his liver in January of 2003 from a woman who died after being hit by a car. Prior to that he had been in and out of a coma. "I was about to die," he says. These words are one of the things that many of the athletes competing here have in common, no matter what their level of play.

After the two badminton players compared their medications, which they found surprisingly similar, they went on to agree about the need for much more public discussion about transplantation, not just to encourage organ donation but also to reassure those who are facing the procedure, either as living donors or recipients.

Before receiving her liver in September of 1999, Smitya Jayakar, now 42, was extremely sick, lapsing into a coma for a few days. She did not know anything about the transplant or anything else that was going on. Doctors in Rochester, New York, contacted her parents in India, who make the decision to do the transplant.

Jayakar says that she used to play badminton when she was little, but before these games she had not played in ten years. "When I go home," she said, "I may join a club and practice. But today I'm just here to play." Competing in these games for Team Upstate New York, she clearly has her eye on being a top competitor in future games.

The atmosphere at the badminton venue in the Rec Center is laid back when compared with many other events at the 2004 games. Few spectators are in the folding chairs at courtside, and instead of loud cheers there are quiet conversations with plenty of laughter. Strategy and endurance abound.

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Last updated on: Friday, 05-Feb-2010 10:05:42 EST