By RJ Mitchell
ELEANOR O’DONNELL has revealed that her decision to retire from international badminton will not mean she will be turning her back on the sport she loves.
The Scotland international confirmed her decision to call time on her elite career after having successfully helped the Scottish Women’s Team qualify through Group 4 of European Women’s Team Championships in Azerbaijan earlier this month.
Ultimately a debilitating battle with lymphoedema, a chronic incurable condition which results in swelling due to a disruption of the lymphatic system, possibly linked to a bout of cellulitis in her right leg which hospitalised Eleanor in 2021, had meant that she had been unable to compete on the international circuit since February due to the increase in swelling to her leg caused by flying.
With the effects of the trip to Azerbaijan forcing Eleanor to sit out the first day of the action the Scotland international decided that the time had come to make a decision and at 25 has now sadly been forced to turn her attention to pastures new.
Speaking exclusively with Badminton Scotland, Eleanor admitted the decision was the toughest of her career: “There were a lot of: ‘Do I don’t I’ conversations but now I have lymphoedema for life and although I can manage it, with elite sport that was just too tough, but there were tears.
“Badminton has been my life right through from the School of Sport, so I’ve had a very strict routine since I was young just trying to make it.
“I love badminton, I’ve done it for so long and I’m not ready to give up as I want to give something back.
“So whether that is with coaching, helping the guys out, I’d love to be involved in some way. I already do a bit of coaching in North Ayrshire with KA Leisure and that is something I would love to develop a bit further. I love coaching beginner level players and I really want to progress and develop that.
“So I am excited for what is next but also I am nervous about it as this is all new but it wasn’t an easy decision.”
Yet even although her international career has come to a tragically premature end, as Eleanor admitted, our sport has given her more than she could ever have dreamed of when she first started out as an eight year-old: “The main thing when I made the decision was that I’ve had a good career and I’ve done a lot that people couldn’t say they’ve done.
“I’ve travelled the world, played at the highest level and in the Commonwealth Games, although I am quite young (25) to retire and if this hadn’t happened I would have gone longer.
“But I’ve had a good career and I’ve loved it and I’ve done a lot of what I’d wanted to do and if someone would have told me when I started that I’d have European medals, been to two Commonwealth Games and been a full-time international I would have taken it.”
When it came to her career highlights Eleanor can rightly look back with pride and she reflected: “The (European Women’s Team Championship 2020) bronze medal was absolutely amazing, that full trip was so good, and it was such a pleasure being part of that team.
“Also Alex Dunn and I got a silver medal at the European Juniors at under-19 and that was a real high and that was something I will never forget as a great way to end my juniors.
“Then there were the two Commonwealth Games first with the Gold Coast where I played mixed with Alex (Dunn), women’s with Julie (MacPherson) and with my family there we made it through a few rounds which was great.
“Then at Birmingham it was mixed with Christopher (Grimley) and all the support there made it just like a home games for us with so many people down to watch us.
“Well those definitely spring to mind.”
Yet the close bonds Eleanor has formed with her Scotland squad mates have also made this a poignant goodbye as she explained: “The full team is an extremely close group and we all started around the same time.
“I went through the school (of sport) with Ciara (Torrance), Sarah (Sidebottom), Ciar (Pringle), and the (Grimley) twins and also Adam (Hall) who I’ve known since I was about eight, so the full team is just so close.
“Not seeing them all day every day will hurt but I will definitely come back and see them.”
A gracious and modest person Eleanor was keen to sign off with a heartfelt thanks to all who have helped her make the journey to the pinnacle of our sport in representing Scotland on the game’s greatest stages.
The Scotland International said: “I want to thank everyone. On my social media post (announcing retirement) I mentioned everyone and from the start it was May and Billy Fulton, and Billy has sadly passed away this year, but they played a huge part in starting me.
“I trained in Kilmarnock three or four nights a week and then I moved on to the School of Sport and all the coaches and staff there were incredible as they were at Badminton Scotland and the Institute of Sport.
“You couldn’t do it without them all, they have just been amazing and it is a fantastic set up so a huge thanks to every one of them.
“But also thanks to all my partners, they’ve been brilliant and also to my family who put so much time and money into my career.
“Also huge thanks to the sportscotland Institute Of Sport Doctor John MacLean, who was wonderful and did everything he could to get to the bottom of it.
“I’ve also had so much support and love since I posted it and it was nice to know I’ve made a positive impact on so many of these people’s careers.
“That is very important to me.”
Everyone at Badminton Scotland would like to wish Eleanor the very best with the next chapter of her life and don’t be a stranger!