By Grace Oborne
For young badminton athlete Rachel Honderich, representing her country at the Olympics has always been a dream. In order for one to achieve such a goal, they need to work hard. It was through this tenacious work ethic that Honderich’s hopes and wishes have come true.
At only 25 years old, Honderich already has many accomplishments under her belt. In 2010, she won under-14 national titles in singles and doubles. The following year, she was under-16 national singles champion and by 2012, she was the best under-27 singles player in the Pan American region.
It doesn’t stop there. In 2013, Honderich advanced to the senior level where she won singles bronze at the Canadian championships. In 2014 she helped the Canadian team reach the quarterfinals at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. Honderich then won the silver medal at the Pan American Championships in Markham.
In 2015, Honderich won singles silver and doubles bronze at the Toronto Pan American games and then won five medals at the Pan American Championships between 2016 and 2019. In 2019, Honderich won singles silver and gold in women’s doubles at the Pan American games.
This year, Honderich and her partner Kristen Tsai won the doubles title at the Pan American Championships and were quarterfinalists at the Swiss Open, a World Tour Super 300 event. Then, over the summer, she took that next pivotal step.
Ever since she was a little girl, Honderich knew that she wanted to be one of the best badminton players in the country. She was recently recognized as such – being a member of Team Canada at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
“It was indescribable. My dream has been to go to the Olympics since I was 12. To be there just felt so surreal. It was 100 per cent a dream come true. I couldn’t believe it the whole time I was there,” said Honderich.
The Olympic experience looked different to Honderich this year due to COVID-19, but after being forced to wait for 12 months to represent her nation on the grandest stage, she couldn’t let differences take away from this success.
“The Olympics was incredible. I think after being postponed a year, and then the fact that there was talk in the last month leading up to it that it could be cancelled or postponed again, made me feel really grateful that Japan went on to host it. I think they did an incredible job considering everything,” said Honderich
“We weren’t allowed to leave the village or the venue when we were there, so we couldn’t really explore Tokyo. Nevertheless, the village atmosphere was still incredible. It was just so cool to be surrounded by so many incredible athletes and to see other Canadians and different countries.”
Family and friends were not allowed in the village to support athletes. While Honderich would have loved to have her closest confidants in attendance, she still felt support from home.
“It was different. Obviously it was hard to have no audience or family there, but I still felt immense support from back home. The Olympics was overall just 100 per cent a dream come true. I couldn’t believe the whole time I was there and I knew my family was back home
supporting me,” she said.
Though she and her partner since 2017, Tsai, did not advance to the quarterfinals, Honderich feels they had other great accomplishments and highlights.
“In women’s doubles, there were four pools of four, so 16 chains. We finished third in our pool. We were hoping to be in the top two so we could advance to the quarterfinals, but we didn’t so we were a bit disappointed with that,” said Honderich.
“I think our highlight was when we played against the world number two from Japan. We had a really close match, losing out 21-18 the third game, but I think that was probably our highlight performance.”
Growing up, being an active kid, Honderich played many sports but ultimately chose to pursue badminton.
“Around seven or eight, I was interested in badminton along with many other sports, like hockey and tennis. In school, I played basketball, softball and just every sport. Competitively speaking, I mostly played hockey and badminton. When I was 12 or 13, tournaments between the different sports started to conflict a little bit, it was just busy going back and forth between so many practices,” said Honderich.
When it came time to pick one sport, Honderich decided it was badminton that she would excel at.
“That’s how I decided I enjoyed badminton the most. I think I remember really enjoying both practices and tournaments. It has been a relatively natural progression. I just started with Toronto tournaments, then went onto provincial ones, then national, and then eventually International.”
When Honderich was really young, her family would spend the entire summer at her family cottage on Kashagawigamog Lake. Now, between training and competing, she spends time in Haliburton on weekends.
Honderich encourages youth to strive for what they’re passionate about and to work hard for it.
“The relationships you make, the experience and lessons you gain from giving up everything to work for a goal is so invaluable. If you have found your passion, you should 100 per cent go for it. There will definitely be a community who supports you when you feel that no one does. Who you surround yourself with is really important,” she said.
Since arriving home from Tokyo, Honderich reflects on what her future goals are and what’s next to come in her athletic journey.
“I definitely left [the Olympics] feeling really inspired, so I want to keep playing badminton. I haven’t been training as much right now as my partner and I are taking some time to reevaluate new goals for ourselves and what we want to do going forward.
“Because the Olympics was postponed one year, it’s only one more year until the Commonwealth Games. That could potentially be the next goal. Until then, I’ll be returning to the University of Toronto for my undergrad in the fall and classes are still online, which means I’ll definitely continue playing. I’ll reevaluate soon, if I want to go for the Paris Olympics. I think with it only being three years away, it’s definitely catching. After experiencing one, you just want more. I look forward to what the future has in store.” Honderich concluded.