Sunday, September 30, 2012

Squash God Meets His Son: Hisham Ashour in LA Fitness, Lake Success, NY

Hisham Ashour world ranked #12 PSA squash professional today in a small club in Lake Success , Long Island, NY met his son, my son as a matter of fact. It was one of the best moments of my life to have managed to get these two people on court together. My son and I coach out of this LA Fitness club, and when we arrived on the scene, where there are two international courts, there were no players. This was 7 years ago. In fact, there was discussion as we heard that the club wanted to take the squash courts and convert them into racquetball courts or aerobics studios.

It was then that my son and I decided that we needed to make something happen there. We used to play and drill and talk to anyone who seemed interested in this game. Eventually, we built a huge student base and began attracting some players from every angle of life you can imagine. One of the best players is a young man who works at the juice bar who happens to be one of the most gifted players I've seen, and there are racquetball players, a 67 year old man who is one of the fittest 67 year old you will ever find and he is a most interesting intellectual and conversationalist who studies this game as if her were 20 years old. There's a 50 year old island woman, a mother of 5 that pushed through this weekend with a bad knee just to be on court with Hisham, she is so fit and has such a passion for this game, any spoiled, brat junior, who doesn't want to train and sulks about the hard work it takes to be good at this game, should spend a half hour with this woman and be ashamed.

I had been badly injured and to be honest squash burnt out the last 4 months. The club and the squash energy was at a low. I physically just couldn't do much. I was coaching with a fractured foot and two severely pulled hamstrings. I was tired, I was hurt, I was beginning to hate this game. Anyone can tell you when you can't play what you love you hate that. My best student gave up the game, it was such a huge disappointment to me considering I invested 3 years in this young man. I wish him the best, I take responsibility for why he no longer plays. Some say I should have just coached him taken the money and let him find his own way. But I believed in his abilities and worked tirelessly to elevate his game. I only hope that someday he returns to the game and we get on the court like we did for 3 years and hit around, like a father and his son, because he was like a son to me.

My real son, biological son, and I are huge fans of Hisham Ashour, I wrote an article about him a few years back. It was a crazy article in which I compared him to Ezra Pound, the great modernist poet, and arguably one of the greatest poets in the English language. It was crazy, what would a young, rock star squash player from Egypt care about that comparison. But anyone who knows me knows that I presented Hisham with the greatest compliment I could, comparing him to my great master, my poetry guru, my god.

This weekend, I managed to bring Hisham out to the LA Fitness club, I didn't sleep the night before thinking something is going to go wrong. Hisham will cancel, the players in the clinic will pull out, something would go wrong. I wanted so much to bring this squash genius to a place that in reality squash time would have forgotten. The courts aren't great, management has no interest in squash, we fought for 3 years to finally get shellac removed from the floors and I almost beg and plead the cleaning people not to scrub with slick soap the walls to a bright white.

For some reason this club represents my struggles with squash and my dedication to making my son the best player he can be. Hisham , had a very bad cold in his back when he showed up at the club. I was just so grateful he didn't cancel. When I checked him into the club I told the woman at the desk that she is looking at one of the great players of the game, she smiled and made him sign his guest waver.

As we walked the football field length of the club to the courts, I greeted some friends and Hisham, the keen eye he has looked at all the racquetball courts and remarked "stupid game, you should convert them all to squash." I remarked that first my job is to convert the players to squash then the courts will follow, he knew immediately what I was saying.

To make a long story short, he stretched out his ailing back, did these remarkable clinics with these dedicated club players, and of all the time I've been involved in squash, this great player, who loves this game more than the air he breathes genuinely worked to make this motley crew better. When he went to the water fountain and players in the clinic followed him, he talked to them, he pointed out details, flaws in their game, and as he told me "at the level they are playing the slightest correction is huge in their game".

Hisham loves people, he has the rarest abilities to take the most complex ideas, about squash and simplify them. I listened to what he said to players, I watched their faces, they were glued to his every word, I listened, admired this young man who at 30 years old is a player, a coach, for the people who love this game. He radiates this passion for the game, I cannot ever him imagine doing anything else, just as couldn't imagine pound doing anything but writing great poetry. His interest in every player at whatever level they are is intense, he missed nothing, every detail he sees, it's his eye, it's intuitive..

The day concluded with a match with my son. Hisham had a bad back and my son was nursing a troublesome knee, but I told my son pop some Advil and take this opportunity to get on court with this great player. I gave Hisham my super roller to roll out his back. I'm old school I will pay with fractures, pain, pulled or strained muscles...I never want to be anywhere else but on that court.

I hadn't seen my son play since he played a PST match with David Palmer last year. My son went to England, trained with Steve Townsend in Birmingham, England, and played and worked like hell only to come back to the US and injure both Achilles. I watched him through rehabilitation and therapy and as it goes the darkest time is also the brightest time. He thought he wouldn't play again, he was depressed. However, while injured, he perfected his strokes and game to a different level. As they began the match Hisham, hurt as he was was simply incredible to watch. He redirected the ball to fool my son, who was scrambling all over the court. But I saw something different in points and of course the wizardry of Hisham's shots. My son, he wanted to attack the ball, he just didn't want to retrieve he wanted to push way up on the "T" and attack every shot. The game went to its obvious conclusion, some great points but Hisham, bad back and all won easily.

As they started the second game , Hisham continued with his inimitable array of shots, that to be honest no one could tell where they are going. He went up easily in the match at 3-0 but them something changed. My son began to watch the ball better, not falling for the fakes, a couple of long gruelling points and he was back in it. The game seesawed until it went to a tie breaker and as if scripted for a movie Hisham ended it with his famous and patented Mizuki shot. But wait, it was a let, it stayed up a bit. No issue, he finished it on the next point.

We drove Hisham to Heights Casino in Brooklyn to watch the Carol Weymuller Women's professional final where he needed to watch the match of one of his students in the final. On our way there, I listened to my son and Hisham banter about squash and different players. My son is extremely knowledgeable about squash, he is a squash genius. but when he spoke to Hisham about the game past and present, he was really talking to not me his father, who brought him into the world, but to his squash father -- the two were like father and son, like me and my son once were when we were on court when he was 12 and I was like, I guess, his squash god.

I said very few words as we found our way to Heights, I had been the adoptive squash father, today my son met his real squash father.