Spend five minutes in the company of Daniela Huhn, and it is impossible to not feel uplifted.
Whether she is on court dispatching opponents, or sat in the stands cheering on teammates, the star turn of the German Special Olympics team goes all-in for badminton.
Little wonder, then, that the evergreen player was chosen to carry her delegation’s flag into the Special Olympics World Games Opening Ceremony in Berlin in June.
“I was very touched, very emotional,” Huhn says, recalling the moment she walked out to 50,000 cheering people at the iconic Olympiastadion.
“Carrying the flag was so cool. I especially liked that we were representing a team. I’m proud to have these Games in my home city. I wanted to be a good host and represent Germany in a good way.”
Huhn was favoured not just because she is a native and resident of the German capital. Nor was she selected for her two decades at the top of her sport, or for attending every national Special Olympics since 2006 – although these credits surely helped.
More than anything, Huhn led out 500 other German athletes – “the highlight of my sporting career” – simply because wherever Huhn goes, she pulls everyone along for the ride.
“I was picked to have that honour because many people among the Special Olympics know me,” she says. “I’m happy the other athletes are also enjoying the sport and that they see me as a role model. It’s special I can show what I trained for during the last two years.”
Huhn’s hard work and dedication brought her women’s singles gold at the Messe exhibition centre. But it is off the court and behind the stands where the 47-year-old displays qualities that cannot be trained; high-fiving well-wishers, posing for selfies and stopping to chat with fellow players.
So much so that when Huhn missed the medal she wanted the most in women’s unified doubles with long-term partner Andrea Eichner, her demeanour remained the same: upbeat, engaged and open.
“I’m so glad my whole team stood by me and crossed their fingers and that they were truly happy,” says Huhn, whose fanbase was boosted by members of the handball and football teams she also plays for in Berlin.
“The athletes are always supporting each other. The Games are inclusive so everybody can watch and know anybody can play badminton. This is important to me.”
A strong advocate of inclusion through sport, Huhn writes a blog on the website of Special Olympics Deutschland (SOD), where she works as an office manager alongside Eichner. She was also featured in the influential Tagesspiegel newspaper ahead of Berlin 2023.
But with her home Games now gone, does Huhn have enough left in the tank for a shot at the next Special Olympics in 2027?
“I’m already playing badminton for more than 17 years and I will continue to play for as long as my body and health will allow,” she says.
“I get a lot of support from BWF and we have a good coach. In four years I will be 51, but if everything goes fine then I will hopefully be there.”
With the indefatigable Daniela Huhn, you would surely not bet against it.