Julie (Kralisz) Connelly, ’91, began playing badminton as a way to stay fit and socialize as she raised her two sons. The sport has now become a passion for Connelly, who has won several local and regional competitions at her own level and is currently training for her first national tournament.
“I played four years before I felt comfortable enough to play in a tournament,” she says. “It’s an Olympic sport, and it’s a little intimidating at my age. But as I got better, I felt like I could try to play in tournaments. The first tournament I played in was an intermediate level, and I won my first medal. That’s when I got hooked.”
The thrill of victory inspired Connelly to continue playing and competing. In her club in Williamsville, N.Y., she is able to play against, and learn from, players of all ages and from countries around the world.
The more she played, the more confident she became in her skills—including the smash, which, if done correctly, almost always guarantees that she wins the point—and the more competitive she was in her matches.
“Competing wasn’t just for fun anymore, I had that competitive edge in me,” she says. “I’ve learned from my experience of playing in so many tournaments and in different leagues, and that’s what it’s about for me, getting that experience competing.”
Part of the experience is playing with partners she’s never met before. Connelly, who usually competes in women’s doubles and mixed doubles, partners with the owner of her club for the mixed doubles matches. But because there are few female badminton players her age—early 50s—she usually does not know who she will be matched with for the women’s doubles games. But it’s all good, she says.
“There’s things you pick up from others, and that’s why it’s important to play with different people when you’re going to compete or just practice in open play,” she says. “By playing with different people, you learn different things, and that’s what made me a better badminton player—the learning experience.”
Connelly has competed in nearly 20 tournaments throughout Western and Central New York and Ontario, Canada. She especially appreciates the opportunity to compete in Canada, because the level of play “can be pretty competitive there,” she says. It even attracts players like Viktor Axelsen, the reigning World and Olympic champion in men's singles, whom she met in Toronto last year.
In June of 2022, she competed in the Empire State Games at SUNY Cortland and qualified for her first national tournament, the National Senior Games, which will take place July 2023 in Pittsburgh, Pa.
Learning that she had qualified “was the best feeling,” she says. “This is something that I wanted to accomplish, it was on my bucket list.
But just a few months later, Connelly suffered a back injury that had her wondering if she would be able to realize her goal. She took three months off to recover, and in February, began doing some light training to see if she would be able to compete. As of now, she plans to.
“I took it slow, and I’m easing into it now,” she says. “I started playing low-level games in March, and I am now trying to do intermediate and a few high-level games. I’m going to give it my best, that’s all I can do.”