Road to the Commonwealth Games: Multilingual Anona Pak puts her skills to good use
Speaking five languages is a handy skill to have for first-time Commonwealth Games badminton player Anona Pak, especially when opposition coaches are yelling instructions on how to beat her with partner Oliver Leydon-Davis.
“Coach didn’t realize I could understand what they were saying, and I could tell Ollie what their plan was. It helped us adapt faster on the court,” she said .
“They found out in the end that I could understand them and realized they shouldn’t talk too loudly on the court next time!”
The 28-year-old Hong Konger moved to Auckland as a child. Cantonese was his first language, English his second. Then came Mandarin, Japanese and Korean. The motivation to learn the latter two came from television and film.
It helped her translate for her teammates and expand her friendship circle in Auckland and abroad.
“With badminton, I met a lot of Korean, Chinese and Japanese players. It’s great fun to be able to communicate with them,” she said.
Then there is the possibility of ordering delicious dishes for his teammates abroad. Food is very important to her.
“Food, language and friendship go hand in hand,” she said.
Pak first played badminton at the age of eight, alongside his mother and through school vacation programs. At 12, she was “spotted” by a trainer and quickly rose through the age group ranks.
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Afterwards, she moved to Palmerston North to complete her science studies, while trying to juggle her badminton commitments in Auckland. Massey University had a program for athletes, which allowed it to combine sports and studies.
“It was a mission…I had to do a lot of planning, but it became a habit,” she said.
“Sometimes too much badminton isn’t good for you. Palmerston North gave me a way to enjoy life without badminton.
She is now back in Auckland, living with her mother and her two dogs – Captain and Rambo, Lhasa apso cross Lowchens – whom she likes to take to the beach or the occasional badminton practice session. Her boyfriend Simon lives in Wellington, but is incredibly patient, supportive and understanding as she pursues her dream of being an elite athlete.
When she’s not a globe-trotting badminton player, she’s a laboratory scientist, working for the University of Auckland’s BioBank and in local hospitals’ blood cancer genetics labs.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, she offered her services to laboratories processing Covid tests. It was the least she could do for her country during a difficult time.
“It wasn’t just me! It was a team of us who made this possible,” she said.
Last year, she missed Olympic selection by just three spots. This motivated her to push for the Commonwealth Games in mixed doubles.
“When I first heard the news I thought ‘yeah, that’s cool’ and now it’s going up every day as it gets closer,” she said.
Mixed doubles is “less solitary” and having partnered Leydon-Davis since 2019, they now have a secret language. It’s real teamwork.
“Even without talking, we understand each other through the movement and the shots we play on the court,” she said.
The duo flew in early July for tournaments in Singapore and Malaysia, then to Glasgow to train with the Scottish team, before heading to Birmingham. They begin their Commonwealth Games campaign on August 3.
She is very nervous about the anxiety that comes with being on the world stage. Then there is the negative self-talk that can impact every athlete. With advice from sports psychologists, she was able to change her mindset, which helped her perform on the court.
“It’s a good thing to be nervous, and don’t let it get the better of me.” It shows that I really care about games,” she said.
“If I catch myself getting frustrated or bored, I tell myself to breathe and count to 10. After that, the mind calms down and you see things more clearly.”
Her favorite thing about the sport is strategy and the need to adapt to changes in pace and pace. But she also likes to show others that success, while having fun, is possible.
“It’s a driving motivation for me in badminton. I see a lot of young kids, especially girls, and I want to be a role model and show them that if I can do it, you can do it too,” she said.
“I just want to encourage young athletes to take advantage of what’s happening right now and have mini goals that you can achieve, and not compare yourself to others. That’s what motivates me. »
She has big and small goals that she wants to achieve at the games. But above all, it’s about soaking up the atmosphere and having fun.
“I just want to have fun on the court and give it my all…and I hope to play the best I can in games,” she said.
“I can’t put a result to it…success for us means we put everything we’ve learned and done into games and whatever happens, happens.”