It won’t be easy for her, but she will watch the badminton action at the London Olympics closely. After all, some of her best friends will be on court, and she will cheer for them. Among the welter of emotions, there will probably be some regret too – regret at not being part of the greatest sporting spectacle on the planet, and that too in front of family and friends.
Suzanne Rayappan was a contender for a Team Great Britain spot for the Commonwealth Games 2010, but a medical condition (a congenital hip defect) destroyed her chances. That is not a new story in sport – unlike the others though, Suzanne Rayappan is not just a promising athlete whose sporting career was thwarted by an unfortunate medical condition. She is of a rarer breed still. Once an international player, she has turned to music to express herself. The R&B artist has recorded four songs and is looking forward to completing her debut album.
It was in late 2008 that the England international picked up what she thought was a muscle injury. The injury kept recurring, and a scan a few months later revealed arthritis in her hip. What followed was surgery and months of rehab – a shocking change from the dynamism of badminton to a near-static state on a bed.
“When they told me about the condition I had (a congenital hip defect that was exacerbated by the exercise, leading to osteo-arthritis) it was really shocking, then to be told that this needs to be operated on immediately or else I would struggle to walk, was really difficult to believe,” says Suzanne. “Then to go from being so active to being bed-bound and on crutches for five months then learn how to walk again coupled with the fact the association had dropped me from the squad, it was a really difficult time for me. I was so lucky to have great support from my family and friends that helped me through that difficult time with their kindness, love and patience.
“It was five months before I could walk without crutches. Recovery took me 18 months. I was bed-ridden for two weeks, and was then confined to a wheelchair. I had such pride in my athleticism, and then to have it taken away from me was really difficult.”
“When you’re an athlete, you’re focused on doing your best to qualify (for big events). I dedicated my life to it, and to have it taken away, was really difficult. Luckily, it made me focused on my music.”
Suzanne – an inheritor of interesting genes and cultural influences: her father is Malaysian Indian and mother Singaporean Chinese – grew up listening to Elvis, Etta James and Aretha Franklin. As a child, she had always enjoyed singing, and even as a badminton player, was often called to entertain her team-mates during bus rides, tournaments and friends’ weddings. The long break away from sport helped divert her mind to composing and recording, and the results were so good that she could contemplate an alternate career as a professional singer.
To an untrained ear such as mine, her voice and style seem similar to Beyonce’s, but I could be wrong. “I performed at friends’ weddings and a few competitions and gigs whilst I was a player but badminton and qualifying for the Commonwealth and Olympics were always my first priority,” says Suzanne. The pain of losing out on the Commonwealth Games which were being held in the land of her forefathers hurt her, but as she says: “I chose to look at the positives and really concentrate on my singing and other projects to keep positive.”
In her musician avatar as Raya, she started composing and recording songs, describing her genre on her website as R&B/ Soul/ Urban/ Pop. Perhaps the most interesting of her four songs is ‘The Time Is Now’, which she wrote almost as a statement of her determination to get back. “Definitely, I wrote it for the Olympics for anyone that can identify with that situation, but also to keep myself in a positive frame of mind when things aren’t going the way you want them to,” she says.
(The lyrics go: I’m working hard/ like everyday/ I won’t give up/ come what may/ I gotta be the best/ Better than the rest/ No matter what they do/ They won’t touch me/ No time to waste/ The Time is Now/ You can never put me down)
On the musical front, she has ambitions of completing her album and becoming a well-recognised artist, but she hasn’t entirely given up on her badminton dreams either. She coaches at a club in Milton Keynes and plays in for Milan BC in the Italian Division, and believes she can make an international comeback. She has managed the unprecedented – no other player has attempted a career in singing. She has even performed at the All England and the European Championships. “It was amazing, I love coming back to badminton events to perform, it feels like coming home and great to see so many familiar faces!” she says. “I sang at the European championships in the MEN arena in 2010 which was similarly a fantastic experience. This year I have a few gigs and festivals that will be amazing to be part of so really looking forward to them too.”
The worst is behind her. She might not be able to play at the London Olympics, but when she watches her compatriots compete, she will feel a part of her out there with them.
To listen to Raya’s songs, go to: www.reverbnation.com/rayauk