by ACAC Sports Writer Curtis J. Phillips
When your parents own a restaurant as did John Li's parents, while operating Bak Hauk (Chinese & Japanese Cuisine) in Sherwood Park, Alberta, you tend to become a bit more independent.
A multi-sport athlete while attending M.E. Lazerte High School, Li knew that his parents would be working long hours, "usually getting home late at night," but that did not distract him from getting to practice or games.
"I always found my own transportation there and back," said Li, now 21, and a member of the NAIT Ooks' badminton team playing in the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference (ACAC). "I was either busing everywhere for sports or making sure I had planned getting there and having a way back."
"It gave me independence, where I did not have to be dependent on others. It also gave me more freedom as I could go by my own time schedule."
Don't get him wrong, as Li was not a latchkey kid, his grandparents lived with the family and "always took care of dinner and breakfast."
It is this independence, that perhaps gave Li the confidence to relocate from The Kings University, where he had studied and played for the Eagles badminton team for three years, to move across town to NAIT for 2018-2019.
"I wanted a change of scenery and also went over to continue my education and to be honest, a lot of my friends were there," admitted Li, who was a sprinter in high school, running the 100 metres "in the mid 11 second" range and the 200m in "23 to 24 seconds."
"It's strange to go out there now and play against Kings. There was a little bit of mixed feelings going in and seeing my old coach there. In the end we are still good friends off the court."
When he enrolled at Kings University four years ago, Li was keen on joining the badminton team.
"I was talking to the Kings coach and they were starting a new badminton program in the league (ACAC) and I wanted to help and be part of that program. I did not think about trying out for the (Eagles) volleyball team as looking at the college guys there, they were all six foot and taller and that was pretty discouraging," said the 5-foot-5 Li.
Last year, while representing Kings, Li teamed up with Abby Ledda to claim bronze in mixed doubles at the ACAC badminton provincials, losing to NAIT Ooks' Jeffrey Ko and Eyota Kwan.
Ko and Kwan would go on to win the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association gold in mixed doubles while Li and Ledda would claim fifth on the national scene at the 2017-2018 event which was hosted by the Concordia University of Edmonton Thunder.
Li, enrolled in Bachelor of Business Administration, said "he trains four-to-five times per week, including hitting the gym."
He hopes to see the sport, which was on ACAC hiatus from 2012-2014 "suspended due to low participation", increase from the present four schools which are NAIT, Kings, Concordia and Olds College Broncos.
"Badminton is not as popular as the ball sports like volleyball or basketball, this is one of the reasons why not a lot of schools are interested," said Li, who placed third in men's singles and third men's doubles, with Tyler Walsh, at the last ACAC badminton tournament held January 13, 2019 at NAIT. "When I tell people that I play college badminton, they are surprised as they did not know that there is even badminton beyond high school.
"I think it is about getting more of ourselves out there and letting people know and when more people get interested, more schools will take the initiative of getting a team into the ACAC."