By Aric Pun
PASADENA - Hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard. For Xiaoming Yao, it was the daily grind of trying to become a better badminton player that took up most of her time. Countless days of conditioning and learning the fundamentals helped Yao hone her skills to become one of the finest badminton players Pasadena City College had to offer.
But badminton wasn't something Yao was born into. In fact, she was just a regular kid growing up; living a happy, normal life.
Yao, 26, was born in Shanghai, China. It wasn't until second grade, at eight years old when she picked up a badminton racquet for the first time during P.E. class. She enjoyed playing the sport, even though she didn't know what was she doing half the time. Eventually, Yao would ask her father to find a badminton team she could try out for.
Soon enough, Yao was put in the hands of coach Weixian Xu after being referred to him by a family friend.
"The first time we met was at a court because he would always practice there with his team," Yao said. "I was really nervous because now I am potentially playing seriously instead of just having fun in P.E."
Coach Xu gathered all of the tryouts and had them play against each other to gauge the skill level of each player. Out of the 30 people who tried out, only five made the team, and Yao was one of them.
From that point on, Yao would train constantly for the next two years. Every weekday after school, she and the team would practice two hours a day. Weekends would consist of four hour practices.
"It was tiring because we did a lot of conditioning, but it was worth it because it really helps you in game," Yao stated. "The one that has more energy in the game will usually come out victorious."
At 10 years of age, Yao started competing in tournaments with the team and said coach Xu taught her things that helped elevate her play.
"My coach taught us a lot about strategy to outplay our opponents," Yao said. "Making them think we're doing one thing when we're actually going to do something else."
Yao took a break from badminton at 16 to focus on school. She knew a badminton career wasn't something she wanted to pursue as an adult so she decided to put academics first.
In 2010, Yao and her family moved to San Gabriel, California, where Yao would obtain her high school diploma by attending El Monte-Rosemead Adult School at the age of 21 in 2013. She then took a year off in 2014 to relax and prepare for college at PCC.
The spring semester of 2015 was when Yao attended PCC and it wasn't until 2017 when she decided to try out for the badminton team. Ultimately, she made it, but knew she wasn't in top form to be able to compete at the collegiate level just yet.
"I felt like I wasn't ready to compete," Yao stated. "Conditioning was a big part of me not being ready because I hadn't played in so long."
After a year of training, Yao officially started to compete with her fellow Lancers in spring of 2018 and the fundamentals taught by coach Xu when she was younger was definitely noticed by her teammates.
Jessica Lee, a teammate of Yao, said that she is "Exemplary. She has a lot of control. From an outsider view, not a lot of people will notice the set ups she makes for herself but her gameplay is meticulous and calm. She also has a wonderfully honed wrist where she can get out of a lot of situations by resetting."
Wrapping up her collegiate career at PCC this spring, Yao has built a wonderful resume of achievements.
As a team, Yao and the Lancers won the California Community College Athletic Association State Championship in 2018, came runner-up in 2019 and won the Southern California Championships in 2019 as well. Individually in 2019, Yao placed second in the CCCAA state singles and was third in state doubles.
"She has incredible skills like a professional player which always amazes me," said Chau Lam, a teammate of Yao. "Her skills are extremely strong and powerful. She could beat all the guys easily."
Looking back at her two years on the team, Yao said that she was "Proud of the whole team and myself. We tried our best."
Going forward, Yao will now serve as a student assistant to the women's badminton team under head coach Jennifer Ho. Yao is going to help train the players on the team and use her experience and strategies to help the team win. Yao will travel with the team to games but is not allowed to compete.
"My main goal as a student assistant is to help teach the fundamentals to the players," Yao stated. "I feel like that's the most important thing to succeed."
For example, Yao said that "footwork is really important. If you have proper footwork, you can save time and energy when on the court. You can get to spots quicker with less steps."
Yao is hoping to attend Cal Poly San Luis Obispo when she transfers out of PCC and is planning on trying out for the badminton team with her reason simply being, "I love badminton."
(Article was previously published on the PCC Courier)