This season, the Premier Badminton League’s Awadhe Warriors have a two-feet-tall addition — Molly, daughter of same-sex Danish couple Christinna Pedersen and Kamilla Rytter Juhl.
Not even one yet, Molly is the new source of joy for the couple that won a doubles silver at the Rio Olympics in 2016 and the All England crown in 2018. “She’s lovely. She’s not afraid or too shy or scared of new places or people,” says Christinna, 33. Kamilla, who gave birth to Molly a year after winning the All England, had started travelling within a month of her birth.
Before parenthood, it had been a decade of top honours for the two — Kamilla, 36, had won the World Championships in mixed doubles in 2009 and Christinna medalled for a bronze in mixed doubles at the London Games in 2012.
But bang in the middle of ultra-competitive shuttle, the two rivals from across the court fell in love with each other. “It was like falling in love with the enemy because we were playing a lot of mixed doubles against each other,” says Kamilla.
“I can clearly remember the feeling…we were competing at practice a lot. So it was a lot of hiding feelings at first, then fighting against them and just the excitement you feel when falling in love,” she says.
“I can still remember the excitement in the body typical to falling in love,” Christinna recalls. “It was a special time because we had been playing mixed doubles at a high level. But when we played against each other, only one would get this fantastic jump in the career (after winning). We felt we needed to have something together as a goal, so we started playing women’s doubles,” she says.
While Rio was a dream come true, beating the best Japanese pairings in the semifinals and final at the All England became a cherished memory. Kamilla, though, had begun preparing for motherhood soon after the Olympic silver. “Parenthood is not a big decision on its own. But it’s not easy for an active athlete. And when you’re a woman, it’s a very big decision! I’d started preparing after the Olympics by talking to friends who’ve become parents. But you don’t know how it pans out till you’re actually in it,” Kamilla says.
She had a tough time giving birth, and was happiest to return to badminton. “It was tough, because the body has been through all kinds of amazing, crazy things. It’s rough physically but every time Molly smiles she’s giving back happiness in that moment. Now I’ve hit the gym, the muscles need to come back to get into shape,” she says.
Parenthood has also sent their clockwork life whirring on a chime of its own. “As an athlete, you plan every single day. Now suddenly, we don’t know what mood Molly will wake up in,” Kamilla says.
Priorities as a couple changed overnight. “Now it’s all about when’s Molly going to sleep, not which movies we should watch,” Kamilla says. “But we’ve realised we’re a good team outside the court also. We ensure we don’t get tired simultaneously so one of us is awake to look after her at any given time. All my life’s been about badminton. Now it’s good to be on a practice court with Christinna, play small games and have a good laugh,” she says.
“With Molly now, we don’t want to plan every single hour of tomorrow,” Christinna says. “Now we leave days open for impromptu plans. So if a friend calls, we can actually grab a coffee instead of saying, ‘No, we have to train. No, we have to head to China Open’!”
Badminton goals have changed, too. They’ve lorded over the world, but now they want to win the Danish club Championship for Vendsyssel Elite Badminton club in Kamilla’s hometown Skagen. “It’ll be my first in my city though we’ve won club trophies before,” she says.
Kamilla holds a degree in sports management and Christinna is trained to be a school teacher though badminton has taken precedence over the last decade. They also own nine apartments, some of which are leased out.
“Molly is a super cute and happy baby,” says Awadhe teammate Ajay Jayaram. “She totally manages to get everybody on the team upbeat and smiling.”
Ajay believes India still has a long way to go in accepting same-sex couples but is happy that the law that criminalised homosexuality, Section 377, has been done away with. “I have been witness to many instances of homophobia over the years. I believe normalising same-sex relationships is important. In that sense, it’s great for the community as well as for badminton that the two legends came out publicly in this respect,” he says, referring to the Danish couple.
As for Christinna and Kamilla, can anything top their legendary achievements, their love for each other, and Molly? “Yes, more babies!” Kamilla whoops.
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