Sinead Chambers was introduced to badminton at an early age. In fact the day she was born her dad enrolled his daughter for membership in her local club, and as they say the rest is history.
Sinead represented Northern Ireland at three consecutive Commonwealth Games, appearing on court with her younger brother Ciaran in Glasgow 2014 and four years later on in the Gold Coast.
Sinead dominated the Irish National Women’s Doubles and Mixed Doubles for a decade and since giving up playing has stayed involved in badminton through her job as a physiotherapist with Great Britain Para-Badminton – two of the athletes she works with medalled at the recent Tokyo Paralympics.
“My mum (Jane) and dad (Brian) met through playing badminton very socially at Lisburn Racquets Club or Alpha Badminton Club. The day I was born dad had my name down on the membership list, not that it was always a plan to be an athlete or play at international level but to always have badminton there to play at a social level. Mum and dad steered me down that road,” reminisced Chambers.
“I know I was around six-year-old when I picked up a racquet for the first time. I know when I was a baby mum and dad used to bring down and sit me at the side of the court while they would play.”
Chambers also tried a number of other sports but was always destined to succeed in badminton.
“I played tennis and squash. I played netball representing and captaining my school (Rathmore) and I had trials for regional stuff, but badminton was always my first love and that is where I stayed.”
It was the Alpha club that prepared Chambers for competition.
“As a lot of people would say at Alpha, Bob Colhoun who has ran the club for years and is well into his 90s now, he directed to my first coach Ronnie Watts who has unfortunately passed away now.”
“Ronnie’s son Michael Watt was a national champion and was a very good badminton player. Ronnie was the one that sort of took me under his wing and entered me in U11’s competitions.”
“At that age I wasn’t winning straight away but it didn’t take too long and I was starting to collect quite a few titles at under age which spared me on.”
“I won titles at U13 and U15 level. It was when I was U15 and playing in U17 and U19 tournaments and I think I won a couple and went I could be alright at this.”
“I got my first call up to the Ireland senior team when I had just turned 15. It was around that age that I was getting selected for national teams and when I thought I could go somewhere with this, and it could be a potential career path.”
While Sinead was making her mark younger sibling Ciaran was also starting to come through the ranks.
“I remember one specific tournament playing mixed doubles. I was playing with my boyfriend at the time and playing against Ciaran and another girl. He took us really close, and I remember thinking he is pretty good.”
“Ciaran was a late bloomer at badminton. It wasn’t until he was around 17/18 that he really came into his own and it wasn’t until he was a bit older that I started playing mixed doubles with him.”
Sinead was a teenager when she went to her first Commonwealth Games in 2010.
“I was 18 when I went to Delhi. I remember being in the sixth form common room at school and getting an email to say I had been selected. I literally ran round all my teachers and told them. Everybody was so happy and I’ll never forget that as it was my first time being selected for Northern Ireland for a Commonwealth Games.”
“India seemed so far away and such a different culture to what we are used to here. It was just an amazing experience.”
“Going out and playing against world class badminton players. I think our first match was against somebody that was top 10 in the World and just going wow this is a shock to the system but at the same time an amazing experience.”
“My mum and dad took my brother over to Delhi to watch. The opening ceremony was amazing and just being on that World stage and having that spectacle.”
“I met mum, dad and my brother at the Taj Mahal, which was just a surreal moment. They had kept the athletes away from the general public but they let us met in the open and we got a photo in front of the Taj Mahal and that was real special because it is not very often you get to do that with your family.”
Sinead was selected for her second Commonwealth Games four years later.
“Glasgow was great. It went from Delhi where I was one of the younger members of the team as we only had four there to Glasgow where we had six and it was Ciaran’s first Commonwealth Games.”
“Our first match was against the Adcock’s who are a husband and wife team from England and were top 10 in the world at the time.”
“Just stepping on court with my brother playing against this World leading pair was just incredible and having mum, dad and my friends in the crowd.”
“Glasgow was a special games it did feel like a home games. It was highlighted in the media and there was no time difference so people could watch and it was a bit of a surreal experience but really great.”
Sinead was studying for her university final exams in the run up to Glasgow.
“I graduated the week before going to Glasgow, so in the whole build up I was studying and training, I had a lovely day out for my graduation and then a week later I was competing at the Commonwealth Games.”
“Since I have been representing teams from quite a young age, I have had to balance education and sport from first year onwards. I have to be more organised and balance my time well.”
“Don’t get me wrong it was stressful at times but nothing I wasn’t used to. Going away to tournaments to qualify while studying for my finals just felt normal to me as that was what I’d being doing since first year up to third year of uni.”
The Gold Coast in 2018 was Sinead’s third consecutive and final Commonwealth Games but she had to fight to get to Australia.
“It was funny the way Gold Coast came about because Ciaran and myself after Glasgow, not that we decided that was it, I just wanted to get out and work and Ciaran wanted to focus on his university stuff.”
“We just decided to let it take a back step. Then it got to about two years before Gold Coast and we said this is a unique opportunity and there was nobody really battling us for places on the team. The only thing that was against us was that there was only one badminton spot so it could have been me or Ciaran going as obviously we don’t play singles.”
“We were hoping Commonwealth NI would give us a couple of extra spots for the badminton team, so we funded ourselves, trained ourselves, we had no coach, I was working, and Ciaran had just started work.”
“We played some of our best badminton. We won the Irish Masters, we won an international tournament (Lithuanian International) which we had never done before. We demonstrated that we still could compete on the World stage and the one spot was changed to three spots, so myself, Ciaran and Rachel Darragh made up the team for the Gold Coast.”
“That is probably one of the proudest things I have ever done is working full time, training and funding myself and coaching ourselves, which was interesting from a brother and sister point of view.”
“There was a lot of heated discussions during training sessions, but the Gold Coast was a real celebration for myself and Ciaran.”
“We knew it was going to be our last Games and we really enjoyed it and again our family came over to watch so it was just incredible.”
“Rachel and I got to the last 16 which is the furthest anybody from Northern Ireland has ever got in the Commonwealth Games.”
“Ciaran and I were unlucky with the draw our first opponents withdrew and then when had to play the silver medallists from the previous Olympic Games. It was a good experience but it was very tough. We were playing way above where we would normally play but at the same time you train for those moments.”
Sinead specialised in doubles throughout her badminton career.
“It was around 16 or 17, around Delhi when I was trying to fit in as a doubles player and my skills set was definitely more down that doubles and mixed doubles route. I did play singles, but it gets to the stage where you can’t play all three disciplines, so you have to make a decision and doubles and mixed it was.”
Having finished playing Sinead always wanted to stay in sport.
“Most physios do a degree to be involved in sport and I was very lucky with my sporting background and there has been a lot of transferable skills from being an athlete into part of a support team.”
“I’m working with Great Britain Para-Badminton, and I’m employed through the English Institute of Sport and I have been in that role for the last three years over in Sheffield and that’s where the badminton skills come in handy.”
“We are quite a small team at GB Para-Badminton with only four athletes, but we came home from Tokyo with two medals, a silver and a bronze medal and we were delighted with that.”
“The sport was in the Paralympics for the first time, so we’d take that. I think of the 40 medals available in badminton only four went to European countries and we got two of them so that was quite an achievement.”
Away from sport Sinead’s has a passion for music.
“I love music, I’m not the best at the guitar but I like to sing. I’ve been asked to do my first public performance at my brother’s wedding, so I’ll be singing while he is tying the knot.”
“It is something I enjoy doing.”