“I was just playing backyard badminton but now I want to be a professional athlete,” says Venla Salo of Finland.
Salo, 19, discovered badminton when she was looking for a sport to keep active.
“I tried track and field, basketball, tennis and at one point thought football would be good for me but then realised badminton suits me best.”
She took up the sport seriously four years ago and currently trains with able-bodied players.
“It is tougher but benefits me more. I do also play with Para badminton players in Finland.”
When the world came to a temporary halt during the pandemic, Salo’s school allowed her to continue training sessions using the school facilities.
And now, with the BWF Female Participation Grant 2022, Salo, who has hemiplegia, was able to be accurately classified in the Standing Lower (SL4) class and play her first international matches at the 4th Fazza Dubai Para Badminton International 2022.
“My financial resources are limited because I’m a student but this grant has allowed me to pursue my ambitions. My aim is to play at the Los Angeles 2028 Paralympics and win a medal.”
In the lead up to Dubai, Salo went through four weeks of intensive training with coach Pekka Rantanen and practice sessions with mixed doubles partner Antti Kaerki. She also attended a sports camp by the Finnish National Paralympics Committee.
“I can play my own game here with different opponents. I see my weaknesses more clearly and know how I need to make myself better. I need to be able to move better on court and develop my hitting skills, like my clear shot which was too short at times. I also need to make my weaker side stronger.”
Salo is also keen on waterboarding, Nordic skiing, running and basketball, which she believes will strengthen her body, and looks to badminton stars Carolina Marin and Kento Momota, figure skater Yuzuru Hanyu and basketballer Lauri Markkanen for inspiration.
The ambitious teenager currently divides her time between badminton and her environmental studies degree.
“I want to be a professional athlete. I have what is called ‘sports status’ at the school which means I can train a few hours with a gym teacher. Hemiplegia restricts some choices in terms of career but I hope I can combine sports and work in the future.”