Over spring break, Sharon Ng ’16 won the individual 2015 USA Badminton Collegiate National Championship held in Milpitas, California while finishing second in the tournament’s doubles event. A heavily decorated player in the international circuit, Ng served as the captain of Team USA at the 2014 World University Badminton Championships last summer in Cordoba, Spain and was the top American competitor at the event. The Sunnyvale, California native is also a member of the Blue varsity cross country and track and field teams. The Wellesley News recently sat down with Ng to discuss her introduction to the sport, badminton’s expansion and her upcoming track season.
Anna Cahill (A.C.): When did you start playing badminton?
Sharon Ng (S.N.): I started training when I was eleven. Before that I was just playing for fun like any kid would do, but I started training pretty intensely when I was eleven, so around when I started sixth grade. Now I kind of just play during breaks when I go back home. First when I was applying to colleges, I thought, “oh yeah, I’ll find time [to play],” but we all know that doesn’t really happen. I make it up by just playing a lot every time I go home, and there’s a lot more opportunities to play because there’s a lot more clubs. I’m from California and it’s really big there. We do have clubs in Massachusetts, and there’s one that’s only like two miles away, but it’s just hard to find time.
A.C.: So when you started training in sixth grade, what was that training like?
S.N.: It was pretty intense! I trained five to six days a week each day for two plus hours. It was kind of annoying because clubs just started opening so the one that I particularly liked was about a half an hour away, and it could be longer with traffic, so it was a lot of travel time too.
A.C: So was badminton just getting big in California when you started playing?
S.N.: There were quite a few people in the generation before me that played, but they didn’t have as many dedicated gyms. They played in a lot of rec centers and high school gyms, college gyms, stuff like that. But I think as I was growing up, there were definitely a lot more gyms that were starting to open up. There were only two or three gyms and now there’s 10, so I’m really grateful for that. I hope that it [badminton] grows in other parts in the US.
A.C.: Was badminton a factor when you were looking at colleges?
S.N.: Yeah, actually it was. I only looked at colleges in California and Massachusetts because those are the most prominent locations that have badminton. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but I ended up getting recruited for running.
A.C.: So was this past tournament that you won your first major win?
S.N.: In my college career, I guess yes. In high school, I played a lot of national and international tournaments, so I have had good placings at the junior level. They do it by age groups two years apart, so under [age] 11, under [age] 13, up to under [age] 19 — so basically right before you go to college. Everything beyond that is just open. The disappointing thing is that most people end up quitting once they go to college. It’s hard for them to find time and there’s not as many committed players, so they just end up quitting. I’m just trying to hold on. I don’t see myself quitting ever because I just really love the sport, I just don’t play as often. I played in the same tournament my freshman year, they didn’t host it my sophomore year, but I got second that year.
A.C.: You also played doubles, right?
S.N.: First year I only played singles, but this year I did play doubles. The person I played with, I’ve actually trained with before, so I know how she plays. She goes to school in California, so we didn’t really get to practice, but we are pretty comfortable playing together.
A.C.: So what’s next in terms of badminton? Are there any upcoming tournaments?
S.N.: Not in mind right now. The past two years I did play at the World University Games and Championship. That was really fun, but this summer I’m just going to be focusing on an internship in San Francisco. When I was younger, my dream was always to go to the Olympics and I have considered that and taken all the factors into account, but it’s really hard because, besides just being good enough to qualify, it takes a lot of time, it takes a lot of money to travel — most likely you don’t get sponsored so it’s all on your own. I do have a friend, she played in the collegiate tournament my first year, but she’s not playing this time because she’s not eligible technically because she’s taking time off from school to train for the Olympics. So that’s what it would take. You’d have to take time off school, you’d have to have enough money to travel to all the tournaments across the world and gain points and even then there’s no guarantee that you’ll make it. I kind of wanted to focus more on having a professional career in the future and just living a normal life. I spent a lot of my life just training, and when I think back about it, I really didn’t hang out with my friends from high school that much and I didn’t really do anything else besides focusing on sports and academics.
A.C.: So shifting gears, you’re also on the track and cross country teams. What events do you run in track?
S.N.: I mainly run the 800-meter, so I’m labeled “mid- distance.” Right now, I’m trying to transition into the 1500, which is just a little bit shy of a mile. That’s what I ran this past weekend. I think I could improve a little bit more on my endurance versus just trying to ramp up my speed because the 800 is a lot about speed for longer than an average sprint. I see myself being able to just push myself a little bit longer at a slightly slower pace.
A.C.: How do badminton and track differ or complement each other?
S.N.: I would definitely say that running definitely helps me keep my high level of fitness and keeps me being able to stay relatively fit, and that’s why when I play in tournaments I don’t do as terribly as I would think I would do! Since I’ve been playing for so many years, the touch when I hit the bird and just my overall technique is pretty much the same, it hasn’t deteriorated that much. Just consistency wise, I haven’t played that much so my shots might not be that great, but I can still play for long periods of time and not gas out or anything. So I would say fitness wise, running definitely helps. As for badminton, because I played at such a high level, it’s helped me formulate goals and keep focused. Overall, the idea of competing really helped me because when I go running and compete in running, I have that same seriousness and focus that comes when you are a competitive athlete.
Photo Courtesy of Sharon Ng ’16
Anna Cahill ’18 is the Sports & Wellness Editor who is pursuing a major in Physics. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, watching Seinfeld and playing basketball. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.