My Journey to Becoming a Champion by Fontaine Mica Wright
I’m 12 years old and competing in my first international badminton tournament with the junior England team. I’m having the time of my life being away from home and not having to go to school, I’m with new friends, playing the sport I love, and I can’t believe my family were right. I’m actually pretty good at it too!
At the time, I didn’t know this would become my life, that badminton would take me around the world, give me friends for life, a husband and memories to last a life time. The sport I love so much would also break my body, push me to my absolute limits but ultimately make me the person I am today.
Fast forward to my last two seasons of being a junior badminton player; at 18 years old I’m ranked in Europe’s top 6 women singles players for my age, I’m on track to go straight into the England senior squad and I know I can achieve the results I need to join Team GB. My goal to represent England as a senior was in touching distance, I was on the right path to making my dreams of competing in the Olympics and World Championships a reality, until Good Friday 2008, when the course of my badminton career and life changed.
I was on court competing for England against Germany when I dislocated my right knee and fully snapped my ACL. At the time, I was fully unaware of the seriousness but knew my knee would never be the same again. I flew home from Holland and two weeks later I had reconstructive surgery, two screws and a plate put in my knee. I had never experienced pain like it and I knew the year I spent in rehabilitation would give me a new kind of strength no other player my age had.
Determined not to let this be the end of my career, I worked harder than ever to initially start walking again, build muscle and finally get back on court and competing again. Going into the England senior squad, despite my injury, I was expected to deliver specific results as soon as I was back on court and competing, in order to stay on Team England. A year on from my surgery, and in order for me to achieve the results I needed, I moved from home in Coventry to train full time in Leeds at a high-performance centre with some of the best badminton players outside of the National Badminton Centre in Milton Keynes. Unfortunately, my performances were not good enough and the results weren’t coming quick enough since returning from injury, and subsequently I was dropped from the England team just months after moving my life to a new city.
Despite my disappointment, I understood the need to get results to be funded and supported by the governing body Badminton England and Team GB, so I got my head down to make up for lost training time when I was injured and had my eyes set on becoming England’s number one singles player. As an athlete we know sport can be cruel and the road to success isn’t easy or straight forward and this is something I know my journey has experienced time and time again.
Frustratingly, following my knee surgery, there was a snowball effect of injuries that followed and with it some of the toughest years of my sporting career. I fractured my left foot during a period of intense training and just months after recovering from this, I fell on some steps in the snow, landed on my back and prolapsed a disc in my lower spine. I didn’t think my luck could get any worse, but I spent 6 months in constant pain, the doctors and physiotherapists were unsure whether I’d get back competing again and I had one final procedure to try before they looked at removing the disc.
After what felt like an eternity, I had an epidural injection into my spine; this helped relieve the nerve pain I was experiencing and relax the muscles around my spine in order for me to start rehabilitating and slowly build my strength back up. During this time, I was completing my degree, gaining work experience and establishing a life outside of sport, whilst still doing match analysis and working with my coach on my skills by either standing or sitting on a swiss ball to practice!
I was not giving up!
A year later, it’s 2013 and I have played in just enough tournaments to enter the English National Championships. I’m no longer considered a threat to other players and I decided beforehand that if I wasn’t good enough to reach the semi-final then I would leave the sport behind as my body had been broken enough by it. Through sheer determination, I reached the final and lost to the number 1 seed who had been training full time for 6 years, by just 3 points! From that moment, I knew I could do it; I knew if I trained smart, I looked after my body and I stayed patient, I would be the best.
The following year, despite not being officially funded by the governing body, I was selected to represent England and I won my first senior cap as England’s number one women’s singles player. I had graduated with a 2:1 in Sports Event Management and offered a scholarship to do a master’s degree in journalism. I was then asked to train with the England squad at the National Badminton Centre and regained my position on the senior squad as the highest world ranked English singles player.
Winning the National Championships was something I had always dreamt of, it was my goal since joining the junior England team and whilst I was ranked number one in England, I was yet to be crowned National Champion. Since the 2013 Nationals, I realised I had an inner strength that the years of being injured had created, and although I often doubted whether my body could take the intensity of being a professional athlete, I never wanted to give up trying. I heard and too often listened to people’s criticisms of how I played and how I’d never make it because of my physique, but deep down I knew this didn’t have to be the case, that if I wanted to do it, I could. So, after losing in the final of the Nationals again in 2014, then heartbreakingly not being selected for the 2014 Commonwealth Games, I decided I would have to separate myself from everyone else.
I made sure I did the extra training no one else knew about, I ran on Christmas day, I did my rehab even when I wasn’t injured and when all I wanted was an extra 30 minutes in bed I got up and did a little extra. I got fitter, leaner and stronger, I did match analysis of players better than me, I had advice from other coaches that saw my game from a different perspective and always stayed open to new training techniques. From disappointments, injuries and negative comments, I used it to fuel me and make me a better player.
At the end of 2014, I won my first international title which no one thought I’d do, in 2015 I qualified and competed in my first World Championships and finally, in 2016, I became National Champion!
Against the odds, I did it, I found a way to achieve a goal I set ten year previous. I believed in myself, despite what people may have said and my journey to success made me the player I was. In 2017, I once again lost my funding and my place on the England team due to Badminton England losing their entire funding from UK Sport, therefore could only support a small number of players. I spent a year fighting another knee injury, financially struggling to fund an international badminton career, and in 2018 I made the hardest decision of my life. I retired from the sport I had given my life to and loved so much.
I won national and international titles, I helped England make history in the women’s world team championships, I won bronze and silver medals at the Europeans Team Championships, I competed at 3 World and 3 European Championships, I was ranked 50 in the world and I was England’s number one singles player for almost 5 consecutive years. Yes, I had injuries, set-backs and disappointments. No, I didn’t make my dream come true by competing in the Olympic or Commonwealth Games but, I can look back on my career with pride and know I never once gave up and that my crazy journey to becoming a champion has made me the person I am today.
Along with being a former England No.1 & Badminton Champion, Fontaine teaches dynamic pilates at Heartcore London and is a personal trainer at Gymbox.