The bird man of Redeemer
Three-time OCAA badminton champion Owen Kurvits
Now and then he’ll be chatting with someone and the conversation moves to sports, at which point it might quietly come up that he’s won a number of Ontario college championships and one national title. In badminton.
That’s when the other person’s eyebrow usually cocks and the inevitable question spills out.
“Badminton?” they almost always ask. “At a high level?”
Yes, badminton. Contrary to the belief of some, the game isn’t just for family picnics and slow weeks in gym class, even if those are the only places you might personally ever see it. At the elite levels, it’s a mix of finesse and power with heavy doses of hand-eye co-ordination, reflexes and endurance mixed in. Enter Owen Kurvits. The fourth-year Redeemer University College student claimed his third provincial college title on the weekend. It bumped his record to 32-2 this season and helped explain why he was named Ontario Colleges Athletics Association player of the year for the thirdstraight time, the only male athlete in any sport to earn that honour.
Next month, he heads to his fourth-consecutive national championship where he’s already won a gold and a silver medal.
It’s a remarkable resume. Yet, even as you’re appreciating the achievement, you’re still muttering to yourself, badminton? How does one end up in badminton instead of hockey or basketball or soccer or, heck, anything else? Fair question. Here’s the story. The 23-year-old was involved in all kinds of sports as a boy in Marathon, a town of 3,500 near Thunder Bay. As were his two older brothers. Then one day dad put a racquet in their hands.
“I’m not sure why he told us to play badminton over all the other sports,” Kurvits says.
But he did. And they ran with it. Soon the three were hitting the birdie — shuttlecock, for the purists — around the basement and the backyard. Needing to keep up with his brothers, Owen soon became pretty good. Then joined a club team and got even better.
By the time the family moved to Hamilton five years ago, he was a budding star.
He lost in the Ontario high school finals in Grade 12, but dealt with it knowing he’d be continuing his career at Redeemer.
He knew because the reason the family had moved south was for dad to take the job as coach of the college’s team. As a result, Kurvits had been practising with Redeemer’s team throughout that last year of high school and more than holding his own. So the chance of being cut was … “That was unlikely,” he laughs. His stock spiked after he won the provincial championship in his first year. Then it went up even more when he followed that up with a provincial and Canadian title in his second year. He then completed the hat-trick this weekend.
Now he’s hoping to grab one more national title before stepping aside. Kurvits is getting married this summer — his fiancé also played badminton at Redeemer — at which point he’s planning on getting a job and getting on with life. He’ll coach and serve as something as an evangelist for the under-the-radar sport. But going overseas to take a crack at carving out a pro career? No.
“This will be it for me,” he says. “I’m not looking to play super competitively after college.”
What he wants to do is find a few future Owen Kurvitses out there. Athletic kids in the Hamilton area who are willing to pick up a racquet and give the sport a try. Even if a few folks around them will cock their eyebrow and look thoroughly puzzled when they explain what they’re doing.
Redeemer College’s Owen Kurvits celebrates his third Ontario college badminton championship last weekend.