Lake Mary’s Ria Balwalli travels to Taiwan to compete in the World Deaf Badminton Championships
Longtime Lake Mary Life readers first met Ria Balwalli in 2009. She had just finished kindergarten back then, and she was already proving to be a remarkable young lady. In fact, Ria scored so high on early IQ tests, she was granted membership into Mensa International, a club for those whose intelligence is measured to be in the 98th percentile of their peers.
Even more remarkable, Ria was born almost completely deaf. The first three years of Ria’s life were lived in silence until a cochlear implant finally gave her access to the sounds of the world. Through it all, Ria continued to grow and excel, and you won’t believe what she’s up to now.
In July, Ria represented the United States in the youth division of the 5th World Deaf Badminton Championships in Taiwan.
“I was nervous, but got more confident,” Ria says.
A badminton enthusiast, Ria’s dad Krishna introduced her to the game when she was about 12. Krishna has won many badminton tournaments himself, including the 2012 Graham/Toms U.S. Senior International Championships in Miami for senior men’s singles. Krishna even started Lake Mary’s very own badminton club back in the mid-2000s.
Ria started playing competitively in 2015, taking part in the Junior Nationals in Orlando and other events. She and Krishna eventually joined the ClearOne Badminton Centre in Orlando, where she began working with a coach as well as getting some training and tips from her dad. She started winning tournaments throughout Central Florida.
That took Ria and Krishna to Taiwan for the World Deaf Badminton Championships.
“It was good to see the other players from other countries,” Ria says of the competition. “Some of them tried to talk to me using sign language, though, and I don’t know sign language. So we typed to each other on our phones.”
How can Ria, who is deaf, not know sign language? It’s because she’s adapted so well to the cochlear implant that she now hears, talks, acts, and looks like any other teenager. Unless you look for the external portion of Ria’s cochlear implant behind her ear, you’d never know she has a hearing impairment.
During time on the court, Ria had to remove her hearing device per championship rules. She won her group in round-robin play, advancing to the second elimination round on a bye. She eventually lost to a player from Germany.
Representing the U.S., eating with chopsticks, and seeing Taiwan’s capital of Taipei was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, Ria says. She particularly enjoyed the Taipei 101, formerly known as the Taipei World Financial Center, once one of the world’s tallest skyscrapers.
All indicators show that Ria’s future is headed skyward, too. She’s gotten attention from local TV stations for her badminton adventures. Over the years, Ria has won or placed in county spelling-bee competitions, earned her first-degree belt in Tae Kwon Do, visited and volunteered in India, and excelled at Seminole High School, where Ria is now a junior in the International Baccalaureate (IB) program.
Knowing school comes first, she’ll continue practicing badminton and training with her coach and her dad. Deaflympics, an event organized by The International Committee of Sports for the Deaf, is on the horizon, too.
“Maybe two years from now,” Ria says.
While Ria would love to continue competing on the international stage, she’s eager to advocate for the deaf community here at home, as well.
“Ria is planning to start a club at her school, Hear Us Out,” says Krishna. “Its goal is to provide awareness about communicating with people with hearing challenges.”
In the meantime, Krishna, mom Archana, and younger sister Ritika continue to rally around this incredible young woman. And, as a proud community, we can rally around her, too.
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