Leani Ratri Oktila’s desire to see the Indonesian flag raised and hear her nation’s anthem being played are fuel for her continued success on the badminton courts.
“The best thing about being an international athlete is when I win, the world sees what Indonesia is capable of. I get to make my country and family proud,” said Oktila.
Coming out of a highly successful 2019, with two gold and one silver at the TOTAL BWF Para Badminton World Championships in Basel, and having several Asian Games titles to her name, the next step would be the Paralympics.
Her Standing Lower (SL4) women’s singles world title was an especially sweet victory over long-time nemesis Cheng Hefang of China, whom she lost the gold to at the Jakarta 2018 Asian Para Games.
“We’re good friends off court but in the last year or so, I found Cheng to be one of my most difficult opponents. She’s got a smaller, lighter physique, which makes her more agile and quicker on court,” said the current SL4 women’s singles world No.1.
She is also top ranked in the doubles Standing (SL3-SU5) category, her partnership with Khalimatus Sadiyah Sukohandoko earning her a number of women’s doubles titles, while also winning two world mixed doubles titles with Hary Susanto.
Even with all the victories, Oktila would be the first to concede she doesn’t always play the perfect match. She claims her setback is that she tends to be slow getting into a game, especially when it’s a new court, thereby, giving her opponent time to gain a few points.
“But all I need is that little bit of time, and sometimes I feel that slight weakness actually allows me to study my situation and then I’m able to play my usual game. I have a strong playing arm, I’m very confident of the accuracy of my shots and my smashes are powerful,” she said.
Watching Oktila execute those jump smashes, it can be very hard to imagine that her left leg is shorter by 11cm. She sustained this injury in 2011 when she was knocked down by a car while riding her motorcycle, but two years later she was back wielding her badminton racket.
“I was 20 years old at the time (of the accident) and had already been playing badminton since I was seven, so it just felt natural to come back to the game but I could not have done it without my family,” she said.
For Oktila, the second of 10 siblings, her father is her driving force.
“My father is a farmer, my mother a homemaker. They are not athletes but always encouraged us to follow our dreams, and in a way, achieve theirs for us too.
“When I wanted to get back into the game after my accident, my father went with me to training sessions. My siblings who all play badminton helped out too. I am who I am because of them and the hardest part when I’m on the circuit is I miss them so much. I’m one of those people who is just happy to be surrounded by family. We have so much fun together.”
Oktila’s teammates are also a large part of what keeps her going, and are her family away from home when the travelling and training take her away for long periods of time.
“I’m thankful to God I’m surrounded by people in my life who are happy when I win or comfort me after a loss.”
There’s the plus side to being on the circuit though: “I’ve met so many interesting people and it’s so amazing because I never know what I’m going to experience each time I’m somewhere new,” she said.
Although she is warm and friendly, and comes across as very sociable, Oktila prefers quiet solitude with a book or her favourite music.
“Sometimes I just need some calm. I love my life but it is not only badminton right now. I know I have to do more so I’m currently completing a degree in education and study whenever I can. Being in this lockdown has allowed me to catch up.”
The worldwide movement limitations caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has meant that Oktila can now spend more time at home but with the Paralympic gold still in her sights, Oktila is clear about her goals.
“I’m keeping myself mentally and physically fit, and I’m used to training on my own. The coach gives us programmes using an app, and I have my siblings to practice with. I have to be ready for the next tournament when it happens, to work my way towards the Paralympics,” she said.