Loïc Gaessler is the daring kind. The type of guy who throws himself into challenges with no expectations. But no safety nets either.
That’s what he did when he embarked on an original journey in the summer of 2018. With his backpack and only a badminton racquet in it. And the will to go and meet people. And play lots of badminton.
The sport wasn’t new to the Alsace-born Loïc. When he was just five, he was taken to a badminton hall in the village of Rosenwiller, near Strasbourg. “It was a very small club,” he recalls, “and it was all about enjoying ourselves with no proper training or competition.
“But later, when I left my home town to pursue my studies in Metz, a bigger city, badminton became an important part of my life. First, because I started playing competitions all over the place, but mostly because it helped me create bonds and build strong friendships within the badminton community. It was easy to make friends with a similar passion and values.”
Loïc experienced the exact same feeling when he had to move to Paris for his work: once again, he was able to make new friends thanks to the sport he had adopted. “I became involved with my club of Fontenay-Sous-Bois, and we started doing all kinds of crazy projects and travelling everywhere in France to play in tournaments. But as time went by, most of my club mates got married and didn’t have so much time, so I decided to create my own experience and start a small ‘Tour de France’ of badminton clubs.”
Hitchhiking from one badminton club to another
In the summer of 2018, Loïc decided to hitchhike his way to badminton clubs, with a stop each evening in a different location, joining a training session or open nights to play for fun.
“I had done some research, first to see when the clubs had their sessions, and I did send some emails to the owners to explain my crazy idea, but that was pretty much it. For the rest, I wanted it to be a real adventure – I even had no idea before joining each club where I would sleep that same night.”
With no driving licence, Loïc relied on his good fortune – and his thumb – to make his way to clubs he had chosen for their apparent family-friendly structure and small number of members, in order to find that same spirit he had loved in his previous clubs.
“Even if hitchhiking is no longer trendy in France,” he says, “I managed to always find nice people to take me from one spot to the next. It was mostly small drives and I would often take 8-10 different cars in the same day. But each time, I would get to hear great stories from the drivers, who were all amazed that I could travel like that just to play badminton!”
Bringing strangers together
The week-long journey, started in Lyon, Babolat’s home city, and saw him play in seven different clubs – including one which was hosting a tournament during the week-end. “I had a lot of great encounters during that time. Each evening was a different feeling, and I knew I had to find a place to sleep before the session was over, but fortunately, I was able to find someone nice enough to host me for the night.
“I was really amazed to see how badminton could bring complete strangers together. After only a few hours of playing together, they were ready to accept a 1.90-metre guy they hardly knew into their homes. I think only badminton can create this kind of bond in such a short time.
“This experience taught me how powerful sport can be, and badminton in particular. When you share the same passion, the same values on a badminton court, then it can lead to great relationships. And unlike many other sports, badminton is an individual sport with a very strong sense of team spirit. That creates a real feeling of belonging to a very friendly community.”