It was an overcast Saturday morning. MYANMORE team was preparing for the photoshoot at Le Planteur. Despite the small sprinkle, the weather was surprisingly pleasant, casting an unusual contrast against the overall gloomy ambiance.

Thet Htar Thuzar arrived 30 minutes earlier than the appointed time. Thankfully the sprinkle had stopped and the lush garden of the fine diner was blessed by the glorious sun.

Calm and elegant, Thet Htar was an effortless beauty in front of the camera. Standing beside the noble ladies immortalised in the paintings on the wall, she embodied the timeless allure of Myanmar women, a living testament to their ageless grace and charm.

“I just got back from Indonesia,” she explained about her hectic schedule. “Then, I will have to leave again in early July.”

Running in family

Thet Htar’s destiny was intricately woven with the sport of badminton from the moment she took her first breath. Both her parents were skilled badminton players in their heyday, and it seemed only natural for her to follow in their footsteps. At the tender age of seven, she picked a racket for the first time, igniting a passion that would shape her future.

Raised briefly in Thailand, Thet Htar faced the unique challenge of balancing her athletic pursuits and academic endeavors.

“My father was a coach there,” she recalled her childhood abroad. “At first, I was just playing for fun. Then, I entered a competition.”

In a remarkable display of talent and dedication, she clinched the third prize in her very first competition at the age of seven, leaving a lasting impression on the badminton circuit.

“That match inspired me. I knew I could be more if I worked harder. I never look back since.”

The wild rollercoaster ride

Ranked 53rd in the World Women’s Singles as of June 2023, the 24-year-old has seen many ups and downs in her career.

After her family’s return to Myanmar in 2010, Thet Htar resumed her badminton training with renewed enthusiasm, all while managing her academic studies. Shortly after settling back into her motherland, she earned a spot to represent Yangon Region in the highly competitive Regions and States Tournament. Demonstrating her skills on the court, she emerged victorious and was honoured with the coveted best player award.

She was only 11 when she participated in the 2011 SEA Games although she did not emerge victorious at her international debut.

“Every match is a challenge. I watch my opponents’ videos on YouTube to learn their moves. But this method is not always reliable. Sometimes you don’t have much time to prepare since your opponent is announced at the last minute. In these situations, you have to trust in yourself and play with your wits. It’s exhilarating.”

She still remembers the first major victory at the Egypt International which she counted as her most memorable experience.

Her career is not always rainbows and butterflies, though. In the early days, she didn’t receive much sponsorship and had to fund her training and travel herself. She usually travels alone so loneliness is also a problem. She has her fair share of losses and injuries almost broke her, too.

“When I was suffering from the back injury, I had no choice but to take an entire month off for recovery. I had to quit the Asian University Game held in Nay Pyi Taw after making it to the semi-finals because the pain was unbearable. It was one of the lowest points of my life.”

She made a point about the importance of exercise and healing for an athlete. Even now, she is training six days a week.

“I noticed the discomfort in my back after coming back from Egypt but didn’t pay it much attention. I did training as usual and took part in another tournament. That’s why it got worse, I guess. Pain is part of our lives. But it doesn’t mean you have to give up.”

The Olympian has her sight firmly set on the 2024 Paris Olympics. “At the moment, I’m focused on accumulating points and improving my rank. Before the Olympics, I plan to join the All-England Open in March. It is one of the major tournaments.”

Plans for the future

She’s now studying for an MBA while doing commercials and brand endorsements on the side. After retirement, she plans to do business: “At present, I am involved in the sale of Victor-branded badminton equipment imported from Thailand. I will extend to other fields of business when I’m retired.”

She said although she wouldn’t work as a trainer, she considered working at the Badminton World Federation for the betterment of the sport.

Badminton is not as popular as football in Myanmar. When you stroll down the streets of Yangon in the cold season, you may occasionally come across kids playing badminton. Most people regard badminton as a recreational activity or a fun game, and only a few dare to dream of pursuing a career in it.

However, Thet Htar has managed to captivate people’s interest back to badminton. Her radiant smile and glowing sun-kissed skin at international tournaments have caught the attention of the people of Myanmar.

“When I came back from Thailand, I noticed tournaments were far fewer in Myanmar than in Thailand. There were only two to three tournaments in a year, so the players didn’t have much practice. Increasing the frequency of tournaments would undoubtedly boost players’ motivation and drive. Training should be more systematic, in my opinion.”

She herself has the best coach in the world: her father. “Both my parents played badminton when they were younger, so I learn much from their experience. My family is the best support system. Whenever I feel down abroad, I talk with my parents on the phone and feel re-energised.”

Beneath her impressive career record and celebrity status, you can see her youthful charm and carefree spirit, particularly when she graces you with her gracious smile.

Follow her Facebook to stay in touch with her activities.

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