When passion can move mountains…

The nice story of our Ambassador Jillie Cooper

« January 22nd 2015 a day that changed my life forever.

I arrived to el estadio in Medellin on the advice of my professor to help improve my Spanish. The goal was to coach badminton in return for time spent with children in order to learn a new language. I had no idea what to expect but having been a professional athlete the unknown and being uncomfortable had become the norm.

As I approached the coach (Juan Camilo) I could see 20 or so curious children looking in surprise. I must have looked like I had landed from outer space. I’m 5ft 10 with blonde hair and blue eyes. I observed the children warming up while trying to chat Spanish with Camilo. That initial conversation will stay with me forever. I asked him why the children were playing without proper equipment or footwear. Camilo explained that the children were from under privileged backgrounds and that they did not have many resources. I explained that it didn’t matter and that I could help connect them to the wider Badminton world. Camilo’s response was “ Gracias pero no es possible , es muy dificil en Colombia” (Thank you but it is not possible, it is very hard in Colombia). My response was you are crazy, anything is possible, badminton changed my life and I promise you I will help you.

The reason I was so passionate was because badminton did change my life. I have always given back to the sport that has given me so much whether it’s coaching juniors or giving motivational talks in Scotland and now that I was in Colombia my mentality was exactly the same. Badminton taught me to dream, set goals, be disciplined, to work as a team, respect, to keep showing up even when the times were tough; the list is endless. I had also travelled more of the world than any of my ancestors had by the time I was 18 and I did it all with my best friends.

I am often asked the question what I miss the most about not playing and the truth is I miss being in a team were we were all pushing ourselves to the limit in order to achieve the same goal.

That evening I went back to my apartment in Medellin and set my goal for Poona Medellin. My vision was that each child had a proper racket, shoes and clothing.

To start, I began thinking of the vast badminton family and who in my network could help. To begin with I contacted Solibad (a small badminton charity which has badminton projects all over the world). I knew they collected old equipment from players and had financially helped some projects. I arranged for equipment to be sent from France (some rackets, shoes and clothing). I wrote a proposal for them to help start a project in Colombia. The proposal and my plan were accepted; I received €1000 and started the ground work with the coaches to introduce some more children to the sport.

I began by visiting schools in the poorest “barrios” of Medellin. I painted courts, played with the children on concrete outdoor courts and talked to them in my broken Spanish about Europe and muy frio Escocia, (a country most of them had never heard of until I got out a map). Initially there were parents who had tears and they were very surprised that someone “foreign” wanted to help.

In reality I was just doing the right thing and passing on the chain of opportunity that had been handed to me. When my time in Colombia had come to an end, we had built up a fantastic team and I knew the project would be in safe hands. Even though I was leaving I was already thinking about returning and additional ways I could help. Now the initial goal had been accomplished my next goal was to connect them with Europe.

Fast forward to May 2016 and I had just finished studying in the USA and had signed a contract to work full time in London. I was about to run the Edinburgh Marathon with my close friend and former Scottish Squash Internationalist Frania Gillen Buchert.

We were running for Solibad and specifically the project in Medellin. Our time was less than impressive, in fact it was embarrassingly bad but for once it wasn’t about us or being the best. We raised £2045 and also had a separate donation from William Grant and sons worth £1000 ensuring that in total we received £3045. All of which went directly to the project.

On March 22nd 2017 I finally returned to Medellin 22 months after I left. This time I arrived with 3 boxes of 23kg worth of equipment. I have to say a massive thank you to the current/past Scottish national players, Glasgow school of sport who all kindly donated unwanted shoes, clothing and rackets, Babolat UK for donating 150 shuttles, 70 grips and 2 reels of string and British Airways for allowing me to take this excess baggage free of charge. I also took some signed autographs from fellow Solibad ambassador and world top 10 men’s singles player Hans-Kristian Solberg Vittinghus from Denmark.

When I arrived it was unbelievable how much the sport had grown in the time I had left. There were now 8 clubs instead of 2. The children were overwhelmed with the amount of clothing I had brought and the fact that famous players such as HKV, Kirsty Gilmour, Heather Olver and various other Internationalists had donated their clothing to the Colombia project.

23rd August 2017 was another landmark day and huge milestone for our project. I had been working in Lisbon and was about to take a flight to Oviedo Spain. In Oviedo I would meet with Juan Camilo, Oscar Sanchez and two of the junior players Borja and Sara (both 13 years old). They were in Spain for a month of training to experience European Badminton and play with the players from Badminton Club Oviedo. This was an incredible, once in a life time opportunity for Borja and Sara, two children I had met from the beginning in 2014. None of the professors or children had ever been to Europe and this was an opportunity to which they all seized. The children trained like professionals (6-7 hours per day) while also allowing the coaches a chance to experience a European insight into coaching. It was amazing to see the children play and compete with some of the best Spanish children and they didn’t look at all out of their depth. Seeing the older club players also allowed them to see the mental and physical toughness that is required to become a great player. That evening the coaches and I shared a glass of red wine and celebrated how far we had come, it was a truly amazing moment and greater than any victory I had ever accomplished on the court, it was a real pleasure to see them in Europe!

None of the above would have been possible without the help of Solibad. I am very proud to help the Colombian project and give other children the opportunity to play Badminton. Whether they go on to become great players or stop playing tomorrow I just hope they can learn some of the intangible skills sport has served me so well throughout my life. I know Poona Medellin is absolutely delighted to have the backing of Solibad. To go to Europe was a dream come true and one which none of them could ever have imagined. Now they believe anything is possible. The next goal is to have a champion in Latin America followed by the first ever Colombian player at the Olympics; all of which is possible ».

Jillie Cooper.


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