When it was announced that Para badminton would be included in the Paralympic Games for the first time, many athletes rushed to qualify. Vitor Tavares was one of them but he seemed to take his time, almost as if he was slowly and steadily picking off his opponents one at a time along the way.
“My toughest opponent in 2019 and early 2020 was Jack Shepard from England. He is a very good athlete who has high technical and tactical skills,” said Tavares, currently ranked fourth in the world in men’s singles Short Stature (SH6) category.
Just before news of cancellations hit this year, the 21-year-old secured a gold medal at his home event, the Brazil Para Badminton International, and silver in the Peru Para Badminton International, propelling him to sixth in the Race to Tokyo standings.
Now, he’ll have to wait another year before his efforts pay off as the global COVID-19 pandemic has led to cancellation of sports tournaments and the Paralympics being postponed to 2021.
As cities around the world enforce movement restrictions, training has taken on a different meaning these last few weeks.
“There are times when I just want to go for a run in the park to enjoy the environment but I can’t,” said the Curitiba resident.
Tavares relies on constant contact with his coach and personal trainer so he can keep up with training at home. Time is spent analysing videos of himself and his opponents, as well as other training methods.
“I’m in touch with my psychologist as well because it’s hard to motivate myself. Training at home compared to at the gym or on court is very different but thinking about my goals really helps.”
Tavares also tends to struggle with the psychological aspect of being in competition and he believes his emotions on court have held him back several times.
“We’re working to change this. I have the willpower and a great dedication. It motivates me to train more, to continue to improve and to get good results on and off the court.”
Tavares started playing badminton in 2016. Two years later, he swept the men’s singles, men’s doubles and mixed doubles gold medals at the Pan Am Para Badminton Championships.
At the Lima 2019 Para Pan American Games, he won the men’s singles gold and is Brazil’s medal hope in Tokyo but juggling the pros and cons of an athlete’s life can be trying.
“You give yourself body and soul to training and matches, and when you have good results you feel a sense of accomplishment. But there are things you give up along the way when most of your time is taken up by training,” he said.
One such sacrifice is his university degree, which he has had to defer due to a hectic tournament schedule but Tavares is determined not to give up. “I intend to go back to studying Physical Education and graduate.”
With his regular training schedule disrupted, Tavares makes every attempt to stay fit and is ready for when it’s time to take to the court again. “When you stay physically active, your body and your health thank you. I always feel more fulfilled when I finish a workout and have a good sweat.”
Being away from the circuit has its positives too.
“In a way it’s a good break to relax at home, catch up on movies I’ve missed. I also have time to think about myself, to plan my future and some goals off the court.”