Kohima: Leihong Konyak began playing badminton at a tender age of 10 years when his father Honshong Konyak took him to a local badminton tournament. Since then, there has been no looking back.
The 19-year-old boy hailing from Mon district of Nagaland won the recently-concluded 43rd Nagaland Inter-District and State Open Badminton Championship held in Zunheboto. He claimed the title for the second consecutive year. High on the achievement, the young shuttler is now aiming to represent the country in global platforms by 2023.
Speaking with EastMojo, Konyak said that he aspires to be one of the best shuttlers in the world. For that, he has already started training up to 9 hours a day. “As a young player, I had to do more training and less on-court sessions. I used to go for jogging in the morning and evening and if there are no players then I used to…. train myself in the court,” he said.
Growing up in Totok Ching Kho village under Mon district, Konyak began his professional training at Assam Badminton Academy after he passed his Class X examination in 2016, and has simultaneously enrolled himself in distance education — he is currently pursuing his first year in Bachelor of Arts.
Recalling how he started, Konyak said, “Out there in my place [Mon district], most guys [boys] my age prefer football. But I started playing [badminton] when I was 10 after my father took me to one of the inter-district badminton tournaments. From there, my passion for badminton started. My first tournament was in 2011 in Tuensang. I got selected but I didn’t get the chance to play. So, right after that tournament I took it as a challenge and started practising each and every day and I thought of winning that same tournament the next year which was held in Dimapur in 2012. So from 2012 I started winning till now.”
Konyak won the U-13 Nagaland champion in 2012 before clinching the U-13 and U-15 titles in the following years. He went on to win the U-15 title again in 2015 and won the U-17 and U-19 titles in 2016 and 2017, respectively, at the state championships. He won the recently concluded 43rd Nagaland Inter-District and State Open Badminton Championship held at Zunheboto for the second consecutive year.
As per Konyak, his mother, who works as a typist at the local DTO office, would often save money to pay for his academic fees, training sessions, equipment and tournament expenses. His father is self-employed and engages himself in non-paid local community leadership and services. “Till now my parents are sponsoring me for which sometimes I couldn’t go to high ranking tournaments because I am not the only one in the family. I am the youngest one among six siblings, so sometimes my parents cannot afford,” he added.
Even then, his parents have been very supportive, he said. He recalled how his parents supported his decision to pursue his passion, when he had to choose between badminton and education after he passed Class X.
During the four years at the Assam Badminton Academy, Konyak would come home only once a year– for about a week during Christmas. When asked about his practice sessions, whenever he is at home in Mon, he said that the badminton court in which he once played as a small boy is now closed and not functional. However, he maintains his fitness routine by going for long runs.
“There are many raw and talented players here [Nagaland] but the thing [is] we need good facilities and infrastructure,” he said.
Giving a message for aspiring shuttlers, Konyak said, “Believe in yourself and keep working hard. Whatever comes your way, just focus on your dream and have strong determination and will power.”
Konyak will now be playing in the North East Championship which will be held in Sikkim from September 19-22. “My target is to win the gold in the championship. My preparation is okay but the thing is I need most is to stay focused, be calm, cool and patient,” he added.