Nicholas Waller ’18 takes on the badminton world

Rising senior Nicholas Waller '18 represents the United States national badminton team and hopes to one day compete at the Olympic Games.

nicholas waller playing badmintonPhoto/Michael Lovett

Nicholas Waller

Unlike most athletes at Brandeis, Nicholas Waller ’18 operates almost completely out of the spotlight—which is shocking, considering he’s put himself on the path to becoming an Olympian.

Waller doesn’t play on a Judges varsity team. He plays badminton and is currently ranked sixth in the country. He represents the United States at the highest competitive echelons and from May 21 to 28, the Natick, Massachusetts native competed on the 10-person U.S. national team at the 2017 Sudirman Cup in Brisbane, Australia.

At Brandeis, Waller majors in biology and minors in chemistry and economics. But when he’s not studying or sleeping, odds are you’ll find him nearby at one of two private badminton clubs in Wellesley and Westborough. Waller’s success in this unique sport is mostly a secret on campus. He is shy, a perfect foil for his dynamic and swift play on a badminton court, and doesn’t talk about his athletic experience very often.

“Most people don’t know how to react, they’re like ‘oh, that’s pretty cool,’” Waller said. “It’s hard to have an idea if you haven’t seen it played on a more competitive level.

“I wish I was more outgoing about it, but it’s hard for me,” said Waller. “I’m shy in general.”

That said, Waller has, occasionally, parlayed his love of badminton into hanging out with friends. On April 1, he assembled an 11-person contingent of Brandeis students, taught them over two weeks how to play badminton on the fly, and then self-funded a trip to Long Island to compete in the collegiate Division 2 club badminton regional championships on April 15.

And, they took first place (of course).

Waller is hoping that feat helps restore Brandeis’ badminton club, which dissolved well before he became a student. Nevertheless, Waller is setting his sights even higher and is already testing his talents at the international level.

At the Sudirman Cup in Australia, the U.S., which brought a team of five women and five men to the tournament, competed against Australia, Austria and Singapore in the opening rounds. Waller competed in doubles.

“This tournament, I was just happy to compete, to be on the team,” said Waller, who needed to finish second in a qualification tournament in January to seal his spot with the U.S. “The level much higher in that tournament than it is here in the states. It’s really hard.”

Waller, who has an athletic build and focuses on conditioning in his training, played soccer at young age but started badminton when he was 10 upon the encouragement of his grandfather, who played recreationally while growing up in India. Since taking up badminton, Waller’s talent has risen steadily. He’s trained with Olympians, has been ranked as high as fourth in the country and is continuing to gain more international experience.

Though he aspires to someday be an emergency room doctor, Waller also wants to give badminton its due. After graduating next year, he’s planning on moving to Asia, which Waller says is home to the best badminton players in the world, to temporarily train and make a bid for Tokyo 2020.

“I’m planning on taking two years off to train and compete and try for 2020,” Waller said. “If it goes really well I’ll probably stick with it. If it doesn’t I’ll switch and try to head to medical school.”

“There’s a lot about this sport that piques my interest,” Waller added. “I like that it’s a one-on-one sport, I like that there’s a huge physical aspect, but that it’s also strategy, technique, and skill.”

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