Supporting Canadian Athletes

Anna Rice

As reigning National Champion and the highest ranked singles player in North America, as well as the fifth highest ranked Commonwealth woman in the World, badminton athlete Anna Rice is well on her way to securing her spot at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, India. Along her path, Anna has become a two-time Pan American Champion and the first North American female player to reach the top 16 at an Olympics in the 2008 Beijing Summer Games.

Anna grew up in North Vancouver which she describes as “a very active and sport happy culture”. Incredibly, there were five athletes competing at the 2004 Athens Olympics from the same high school that Anna attended – Handsworth Secondary – and four qualified for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. “For a small high school, they have an amazing tradition of producing high performing athletes. It’s fun to reconnect with each other in the athletes lounge and around the village at multi sport games”, says Anna. She recently attended the school’s sport awards as a guest speaker, inspiring the students to follow their dreams, no matter what.

Anna participated in every sport you could imagine as a young child, trying to keep up with her older sisters. “I knew I was crazy about sport and competition at the age of four!” she explains. “My favourite thing to do was any kind of game that was physically active and competitive.” Many of her friends in the community where she grew also participated in sport, but it was her sisters who influenced her to start playing badminton.

Anna describes two forks in her path as a badminton player which determined her success in reaching the national level. The first one occurred when she was fifteen and realized that what her coaches always said was true, ‘you get out what you put in’. “This is when I began to train a lot harder and to take the sport more seriously”, she says. The second one occurred when she was nineteen and decided to move to Denmark to play in the Danish Club League and to train at the International Badminton Academy. “Badminton is so huge over there; it opened up so many doors in terms of training and better access to competing with some of the top players in the world”, Anna explains.

Once Anna moved to Denmark in 2000, she started to see vast improvements in her game and in 2004 won her first national title. Her success continued as she reached the top 16 at the 2007 French Super Series; 2008 China Open; 2008 All-England; 2008 Denmark Super Series, as well as her second Olympic Games in Beijing. In addition to her two-time Pan American title, Anna added another gold to her repertoire by winning the 2009 US Open, which she followed up with a win at the Puerto Rico Open a few months later.

While training in Denmark, she was also on a one year exchange with the University of British Columbia. It was a priority for her to continue her studies while pursuing her goals in sport. She has since completed a Bachelor’s Degree in History and Political Science from UBC, as well as a Master’s Degree in Communication for Development, with a focus on Human Rights from the University of Malmo, Sweden.

Anna was presented with a very unique opportunity to do an internship with Right To Play at the Beijing Olympics along with 5 other 2008 Olympians from around the world. Anna chose to carry out the three month internship in Uganda, where she could still continue with her own training while assisting with the training of the Ugandan national badminton team. In the months leading up to the internship, Anna collected over 150 badminton rackets to distribute to both the Ugandan Badminton Federation and to Right To Play. “It was incredible watching so many young and talented Ugandan badminton players training so hard and having tons of fun, though most were playing with broken rackets or without proper shoes. Giving these players better equipment is one way to try to level the privilege divide that can prevent athletes in developing countries from reaching their potential in sport”, Anna explains.

In 2005, she became involved with the World Badminton Federation by raising issue with the unequal pay distribution between male and female players. “I think it was definitely inspired by my studies outside of sport”, Anna explains. “I felt it was unfair for women and reflected badly on our sport”. In 2007, an amendment was made to the Badminton World Federation Tournament Guidelines, whereby prize money for men and women would become equal for all official international tournaments. Anna believes that this has had a positive impact on the image of the sport and reflects well from an Olympic perspective. Together with Anna, the Badminton Players Federation President Bobby Milroy was instrumental in securing this major advancement for gender equity in the sport of badminton. As a result of this accomplishment, Bobby received the 2007 AthletesCAN Leadership Award and was also recognized by the IOC Conference on Women in Sport held in Jordan in 2008, where he was invited as a Guest Speaker.

Anna was also the Vice President of the Canadian Badminton Player’s Federation from February 2007 until this past January, a role which includes disseminating information to the players and keeping them up to date with what is going on in the sport, as well as speaking on their behalf to the national federation. More recently, Anna was asked to join the selection board for the Women In Leadership (WIL) Awards, which will recognize women making a difference across Canada in many social sectors including sport.

Anna spends the rest of her free time visiting schools and speaking for such organizations as Act Now BC, which supports events in British Columbia communities year round; spreading the healthy living message, and encouraging those in the province to lead healthy lives. These public speaking opportunities allow her to spread her message: “Everyone has some talent but the biggest talent of all is being able to know your dream and having the courage to go after it, even when people tell you otherwise.  Olympians become Olympians because of their commitment to their sport and the dedication they show day in and day out, and at the start of it all we were just little kids with a dream.”

Anna was first introduced to AthletesCAN in the lead up to the 2004 Athens Olympics, when some of the older players told her about the programs and services offered to senior national team athletes. “I remember thinking it was really cool that there is this organization that takes care of all the athletes”, she says. Anna also won the Investors Group bursary in 2008 and 2009. Working in partnership with AthletesCAN, the Fund awards twenty bursaries of $5,000 to Canadian amateur athletes each year. “I feel very privileged to have been awarded this bursary on two occasions; it has had a huge impact on helping me to be able to pursue my sporting goals. But what I really admire about this award is that it isn’t only for athletes winning Gold medals around the world, it’s also for athletes from the smaller sports who are silently making a difference in their communities, which I believe is equally as important for sport in our country as winning Gold medals.”

“I have heard great things about the AthletesCAN Forum but have yet to be able to attend due to training schedule conflicts!” she states. Anna believes the Forum provides a rare opportunity as there often isn’t any reason to connect with athletes from other sports. She has come to realize that it is important to be able to get to know other athletes and hear what is going on in the sport world outside of badminton. “Canadian athletes are known around the world for being active and engaged in a leadership capacity and this is largely due to our understanding of the need to be role models for younger athletes – the Forum provides the perfect opportunity for this”, Anna says.

The badminton team for the 2010 Commonwealth Games has not been selected yet but Anna is certainly in the pool of athletes being considered to compete. Before Delhi however, Anna has a tough competitive schedule including the Canada Open from July 13-18 at the Richmond Olympic Oval, which organizers anticipate will be the largest badminton tournament ever held in Canada (more info at http://www.canadaopen.ca). A few weeks after that Anna is off to Paris to compete in the 2010 World Championships. She is training hard for these and the opportunity to represent her country in October, when she hopes to cap off the season with a Commonwealth medal!

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