We often spend our lives trying to fit into societal norms, trying to be shaped into a person of their expectations. Pursuing a different career or talent rather than going along with the herd of sheep is considered disappointing in so many ways – but the best of us are those who tend to pursue our passion, no matter what is directed towards us. And what better example of this could be, than Aishath Afnaan Rasheed – three times National Badminton Champion.
As she recalls from her memory, Afnaan first swung a badminton racket at the age of seven with the help of her ‘Rasheed Bappa’ – following the leads of her cousins who were national champions of their time. Having seen her cousin sister Shaain play since an early age, Afnaan takes inspiration from the discipline and success of her. And today, she has become a name of power when it comes to Badminton.
But success never comes easy – and just like that, Afnaan has faced several obstacles to establish herself as a brand name in the industry. Coming from a long line of badminton champions from her family – she has had a lot of pressure on her to perform her best. What’s worse is that she has to not only play against her opponent – but pretty much everyone because “they all want someone else than this family to win”.
Even amidst the criticism, Afnaan keeps going on because her ultimate goal is to win a gold medal on an international level for the Maldives. She aspires to be a name, which the whole country would be proud of – and for that she works constantly, day and night with sacrifices that a youngster could only think of. Juggling her work and practice, she spends her mornings at practice after which she rushes to work, following which she heads to practice during evenings as well – which barely gives her any free time to lead a social life.
Having played her first international match at just 16, she took it as a learning experience which taught her countless lessons. Her first time was also the first time a female athlete was chosen to participate in the Youth Olympic Games from the Maldives. Facing the challenges of fasting during Ramadan, her first international match was overcome with adversary as she lost in the third set of the match – but for her this was a triumph itself as she was able to last for that long. And for her, winning the heart of the coaches there was overwhelming itself.
Coming from a minority sport, Afnaan believes that the industry could thrive with a little effort of the Badminton Association of Maldives in unity with the citizens. She pointed out how players flock to participate in inter-school competitions – more than she would usually see from Male’ itself and how almost everyone loves playing badminton in the islands. In her opinion, providing the right opportunities for such interested individuals would help in further expanding the industry and making it one of the bigger ones in the country as well.
With her family and friends behind her success, she has indeed come a long way. From feeling completely beat down over the death of her Shaain sister and ‘Rasheed Bappa’ to winning the title of national champion thrice, she has hustled her way to the top – and she is to reach even further, beyond the boundaries of her country. And the emergence of new players gives her great pleasure, one which she really appreciates. And for those who are too shy, she says everyone should come out and play – for it’s a very welcoming place and if you have the talent you will be able to make it!
Taking a moment to herself, Afnaan thanks her mother and father and her brother and “Rasheed Bappa”, Shaain sister as well as her family and friends who continuously supports her work.
“I used to overthink a lot before heading into a match. I used to get really nervous which even took my sleep during some nights. I would usually YouTube and try to improve, talk to my brother and Shaain sister – who would tell me to give my best and not to pay any attention to the crowd. Only to focus on the umpire and the opponent and that always helped to cope with the pressure”