“Masakit.” That’s what Coach Nelson Asuncion replied, when asked about how he felt when his children Kennevic and Kennie Asuncion did not qualify for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
It was one word loaded with too many meanings and too many emotional complications. After all, the family practically spent all their lives training and competing all over the world, to prove that Filipinos can excel in the highly competitive sport of badminton.
For the past four years, their schedule was unforgiving. Kennie and Vic were almost living out of their suitcases. In between their almost monthly international tournaments, there were the non-stop (and tiring) training sessions here and abroad. Rest time was spent writing endless letters to prospective private sponsors, finding the lowest hotel rates, booking the cheapest flights and finding the next tournament to compete in. Theirs was a single-minded attitude towards Beijing. But they fell short.
“I felt so disheartened,” Kennevic says. “All the frustrations welled up, and I didn’t feel like training for a time. More than the physical exhaustion, the emotional strain was very difficult for me. People thought we had an easy time, almost privileged. They don’t know that Kennie and I practically beg for sponsorships, so we could compete internationally to gain the points.”
There were many frustrations, and most of them happened off the court. A major sponsor suddenly dropped its support at a crucial time, leaving them unable to compete for three months. They were all set to leave for a major tournament, only to be told they weren’t qualified because their entry form was somehow misrouted. They lost their luggage and their uniforms on their way to France, forcing them to borrow and play with uncomfortable shoes and gear. In almost all their international tournaments, Kennie and Vic traveled without a trainer or their own coach, simply because they couldn’t afford it.
Despite all these challenges, they pushed on, driven by an almost obsessive focus on their goal. Coach Nelson even jokingly said, “Wala na daw kaming ginawa kundi mag-badminton. Pero sabi nga, di naman nakakain ang shuttle cock.” While this may be literally true, badminton for the Asuncions is food for the soul. Their passion for the sport transcends money, physical challenges, and even their own personal lives outside of badminton.
“While I felt bad about the Olympics, I also believe that we have to look at the many blessings that came our way. Focusing on our Olympic misfortune makes us miss the big picture,” Kennie says.
And surely, they have been blessed. Kennie and Vic are arguably the best badminton players the country has ever produced. Mention Philippine badminton, and their names come to mind.
They elevated the Filipinos’ awareness of the sport, using their celebrity and popularity to promote badminton. They are world-ranked and have put the Philippines on the badminton map with international victories. Locally, there simply isn’t any competition, hands down. Because of them, badminton became a mainstream sport in the country.
Perhaps these blessings, and the responsibilities that come with them, have hardened their resolve to carry on with their dreams. “Our dream does not end with us. Our real objective is to eventually produce Filipino badminton champions, whoever they may be, who will make it to the world’s top ten,” Kennie says.
And Coach Nelson couldn’t agree more. No one can break the man’s belief that Filipinos can and will excel in badminton. And given the proper training and support from the government and private sectors, it will not be long before we see a Filipino Olympic medalist in the sport.
The Asuncion Badminton Center will continue to be the training ground of champions, through the developmental programs of Coach Nelson’s Golden Shuttle Foundation. Coach Nelson, Kennie and Vic will continue going around to spot potential badminton champions, and train a new generation of players to become globally competitive. They will continue to champion badminton, harnessing their own wealth of international experience both inside and outside the court, to produce even better competitors.
And so the dream continues. And if there is any positive effect of their failure to qualify for the Olympics, it is the fact that their resolve has been strengthened even more: to find, teach and guide those young kids who dare to dream of being world badminton champions someday.
The Asuncions do practice what they preach: “Dream your dream and do your best. Never doubt, never rest. Until that dream is yours.”