‘It’s Like Going Into Battle’

‘It’s Like Going Into Battle’
Renggli competing at the

In the realm where tenacity meets triumph, the echoes of combat merge with a shuttlecock’s swift flight. At the NSDF Royal Beach Cliff BWF Para Badminton World Championships 2024, three extraordinary individuals emerged in Pattaya, each bearing a tale of resilience forged in the crucible of military training. Their journey, from the barracks to the world stage narrates a saga of courage, determination, and spirit.

Ilaria Renggli (WH2), once a promising gymnast, had her dreams shattered by a sudden haemorrhage that left her paraplegic. She redirected her passion towards Para badminton and became a double world bronze medallist at the Tokyo 2022 Para World Championships and European champion in doubles with Cynthia Mathez in Rotterdam 2023. The 24-year-old’s star shines bright because behind her triumphs lies a rigorous journey marked by military discipline.

Having participated in a Swiss Army’s pilot project, Renggli underwent intensive training from April to August 2023. “It’s a sports army,” she remarks. “All the best athletes are there from across Switzerland for 18 weeks of training near Bern.” Amidst basic education and specialised sports learning, Renggli found her footing, emerging stronger and more determined than ever. “I thought it was a great opportunity to learn and see how I can put everything together, keep me focused on my sport,” she reflects, acknowledging the platform provided by the Swiss Armed Forces.

“I was one of two wheelchair athletes there. It was really eye-opening for me to meet others and learn from them. I could compete as part of my military service and that was great for me.”

In the Swiss army, soldiers serve in a militia-based system, focusing on defense and national security. 

Olgiati (WH2) completed 18 weeks of military training in the Swiss Army.

Geomatics engineer, Luca Olgiati (WH2) was paralysed following a snowboarding accident in 2016. The Swiss man’s journey towards Para badminton began as a quest for redemption. Despite the challenges, he embraced the sport with fervour, securing titles on both national and international Para badminton tournaments. Reflecting on his military training, Olgiati shares, “Every man takes part in the Swiss Army but mine was different. It was a great learning experience for me. It gave me a lot of confidence.

“Military training instilled in me discipline, resilience, and strategic thinking, which are invaluable assets on the Para badminton circuit. It’s not just physical strength but mental strength that makes the difference in every match,” added the Spanish Para Badminton International II 2022 men’s singles champion.

Richard Alcaraz (SL4), a Marine veteran whose journey from the battlefield to Para badminton court speaks volumes of his resolve. Having served in combat zones during Desert Storm and Somalia, Alcaraz’s life took a fateful turn following a motorcycle accident in 2012.

Alcaraz (SL4) says being competing is like ‘going into battle’.

“I went through two years of operations and not being able to walk,” Alcaraz said. “Then after two years I selected to get an amputation done.”

He embraced Para badminton as a means of reclaiming his strength and spirit after discovering the sport through a friend who he could train with at home in Arizona, USA.

Alcaraz was in the Marines for six years, from 1990-1996 and served a tour in the Marines in the mid 90s in Phuket. Marines and are a specialised branch of the U.S. military, trained for amphibious warfare and expeditionary operations. 

Reflecting on his military service, Alcaraz shared with BWF, his profound insights, “Being out there and competing is peaceful. But for me, it’s like I’m going into battle and so I get myself ready. When I’m thinking I don’t have any more in the tank, that’s when the Marine mental aspect kicks in. It’s all mind over matter. I’ve been in worse conditions, far worse conditions, and I’m still here.”