SFU Criminology alumnus takes talent to Tokyo Olympics

September 27, 2021

By Adriana González Braniff

After years of training, persistence, hard work, and many late nights, Kristen Tsai, Simon Fraser University’s School of Criminology alumnus, proudly represented Canada at the Tokyo Summer Olympic Games.

Tsai, born in Taiwan and raised in Canada, completed her BA in 2017 and MA in 2020, both at SFU’s School of Criminology. She’s a member of the Canadian National Badminton Team and besides representing Canada at this year’s Olympic Games, has won six gold medals, three silver medals, and one bronze medal for Canada between 2012 and 2019 at the Pan American Games.

Tsai says competing at the Olympics “was surreal and an unforgettable feeling.” Her favourite part about the experience was the overwhelming support she received from home. “It was such a nice feeling knowing the country is behind you, and all your family and friends are following and cheering you on!” She recalls the most challenging part was dealing with the stress leading up to their first match. “We had all put in so much to get to the Olympics, and were worried about catching COVID-19, or getting injured right before, which would’ve prevented us from competing,” she says.          

All of Tsai’s success did not come without hard work and determination. She started playing badminton at only ten years old. In the beginning, it was recreational in the backyard or at the local recreation centre with her brothers. Over the years, it became more serious and the amount of training progressively increased. 

Tsai recognizes that thriving as a student-athlete has its challenges, as one must find a good balance between the two. During the three years of her MA, she was often out of the country for training or competition. Fortunately, her professors and supervisors were supportive, understood her situation, and helped her stay on track. “There were a lot of late nights studying, reading research articles, and writing reports on planes or at tournaments, and not a lot of time to hang out with friends,” she says.

When asked about her key to success at SFU and in her professional sports career, Tsai says she owes it to the people around her. “Looking back, there’s absolutely no way I could’ve done all these things without the support and help from the people around me.” She believes in the importance of surrounding yourself with people that motivate and challenge you. 

Beyond graduation from SFU and participating in the Olympics, Tsai’s short-term plan remains badminton-focused, with the goal of earning a medal at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England. Her long-term plan inlcudes finding a career where she can use the knowledge and skills learned during her time at SFU, and eventually give back to the community in some way.

Tsai’s most important advice to other SFU students? Set goals. “If you have a dream, break it down into small attainable goals and work your way through them one step at a time.” In her opinion, besides having a clear plan, staying open-minded and adapting to change is equally important.