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Nelly Ruth Leva (right) with teammate Morea Mararos at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games / PNG Paralympic Committee

Achieving the Paralympic dream

Story courtesy of Badminton Oceania

Nelly Ruth Leva is an inspirational leader and athlete in Papua New Guinea’s sporting circles and a staff member on the Team Up-supported Inclusive GymBad program.

In 2020, she was part of the team that competed in the VICTOR Oceania Para Badminton Championships, becoming PNG’s first athletes to participate in an international badminton tournament. Between them, they collected four medals and continued to inspire a legacy upon their return home…firstly, by supporting their association to deliver a food bank project as the global pandemic began to take hold and, secondly, by becoming qualified Shuttle Time teachers. 

Nelly is a regular leader in the Inclusive GymBad PNG program, a combined badminton/Shuttle Time and gymnastics session that aims to remove barriers faced by people with disabilities. The initiative is delivered in partnership with Badminton Oceania, Badminton Papua New Guinea, Motivation Australia, Oceania Gymnastics Union and Papua New Guinea Gymnastics Federation, and supported by the Australian Government through Team Up.

On top of enjoying motherhood for three children, competing in badminton, and delivering Shuttle Time and Inclusive GymBad sessions to her local communities, Nelly is also an avid athletics competitor and has qualitied for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games to compete in javelin. She hopes to use her position as a leader, and her Paralympian status, to inspire others.

“For myself as a role model to my community, I hope to inspire and motivate girls and people with disability to gain confidence, pick up a sport and attend the Inclusive GymBad program”, says Nelly.

Nelly Ruth Leva was part of PNG's first international badminton team in 2020 / Badminton Oceania
Nelly works on the Inclusive GymBad program delivering Shuttle Time sessions / Badminton Oceania

Her sporting prowess highlights the benefits of, and transferrable skills between, different disciplines and sporting codes. In Nelly’s case, she is a left arm amputee and classifies as an SU5 para badminton player, bringing particular attention to the importance of the rotating trunk and left shoulder to assist the overhead technique, which is relevant to both badminton and javelin.

Building on a study by Loughborough University which sheds light on the overhead smash, Badminton Oceania reached out to one of the academic contributors and a previous international badminton player, Harley Towler, to learn more about how the transferable skills of badminton relate to javelin.

“Research into the badminton smash has identified critical technique factors that also appear in much of the throwing literature. Much of the end-point speed (javelin or racket-head speed) can be attributed to the role of the trunk and shoulder, where being able to counter-rotate your trunk (twisting) more and achieve greater rotational speeds at the trunk and shoulder have been found to be linked to greater shuttlecock speed in the badminton smash.

“Of course, some differences do exist. In the badminton smash you are reacting to an incoming projectile, whereas in javelin you are in full control of your run-up and release. Additionally, in the badminton smash you are aiming to generally smash as steep as possible; this often results in a position where the shoulder is elevated, and elbow relatively extended to achieve a high contact point. Conversely, in the javelin, the distance thrown is of importance so the release angle will always be above horizontal, and the release height may be less of an important factor.

“The overhead action is used in many different sports such as badminton, tennis, cricket and throwing, with the general aim to maximise release speed, so that either an opponent has less time to react, or the projectile is thrown further. With similarities in these examples, it is unsurprising that some athletes can perform multiple skills to a high level by transferring skills from another sport”, says Harley.

Fiji’s Iosefo Rakesa is another example of a Pacific Para badminton player making waves on the athletics scene. He became Fiji’s first Para badminton representative at the Australia Para Badminton International 2018 and VICTOR Para Badminton Championships 2018, and is also in contention for a medal in the javelin and shot put disciplines at Tokyo 2020.

Para badminton itself is in its infancy in Oceania, with two continental representatives from Australia (Grant Manzoney and Caitlin Dransfield) competing in Tokyo as the sport makes its debut in the Paralympic Games. 

The Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games run until 5 September 2021, with the javelin starting on Friday 27 August. Nelly will be competing on Friday 3 September at 1900 Tokyo time.

Nelly with teammate Morea Mararos at the Paralympic Games / PNG Paralympic Committee
Nelly jumping for joy at the Tokyo 2020 athletes' village / PNG Paralympic Committee
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