Trading One Set of Wheels for Another

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

From car racing to wheelchair badminton, Cynthia Mathez tends to be drawn to speed.

“Badminton is such a fast-paced sport that when I tried it for the first time three years ago, I immediately loved it,” said Switzerland’s Mathez who will compete in the women’s wheelchair doubles (WH1-WH2) category with Karin Suter-Erath at the TOTAL BWF Para-Badminton Championships in Basel, Switzerland.

Before badminton, Mathez was a judoka and a race car driver. Following in her father’s footsteps, as a little girl Mathez would tag along with her father to the race track.

“I drove my first car at 11 years of age,” she said. It was a 1989 Volkswagen Sirocco with a V8 engine, and the team colours were red, white and yellow, while the car’s racing number was 219, the same as her late father’s.

Her racket bears the number 219 in memory of the cars, while the figure “V8” is tattooed on the right side of her neck.

Mathez with Karin Suter-Erath (left) as European Champions in 2018

Heavily tattooed, each one marks a significant moment in her life, from the V8 to the simple boomerang on the fourth finger of her left hand.

“Emanuelle Ott of France and I have the same tattoo which we did when we were at the tournament in Australia in 2018. I wanted something to mark my days in Australia. Also, the boomerang is shaped like a V and that sounds like the French word ‘vie’ which means life,” she explained.

Mathez’s foray into badminton was not all by choice. Being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) at the age of 24 put a stop to her car racing days, and although she tried many other sports, she only discovered badminton when she began using the wheelchair.

MS is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body, thereby causing the body to slow down gradually over time.

And Mathez can feel her body slowing down.

“When I first started badminton I pushed my body to train a lot and didn’t rest enough. Now I know better. Sometimes I see black spots in my vision and I also suffer from extreme fatigue which means that my body is so tired I tend to sleep 15 hours a day. It makes it difficult to train and I have to schedule my time carefully so that I get enough rest and enough practice.”

Yet, Mathez has refused to let the disease define her life. ““The speed and the movement of playing badminton in the wheelchair is amazing. It has given me a chance to enjoy life and beat this disease for as long as possible.”

Time is already a valuable commodity for many but for someone with MS, it is especially precious and because of this Mathez is realistic about her goals.

Her main aim now is to win in Basel, having missed the opportunity at the World Championships two years ago. The Tokyo 2020 Paralympics is a dream Mathez is hoping she has a chance to achieve.

“Qualifying and competing in Tokyo will be amazing but my disease is such that I don’t know what will happen to my body tomorrow. I could be an active athlete for the next 20 years or I may only have one day and then not be able to move my arms or see clearly. Until that happens, I will continue to enjoy this sport,” said Mathez.