Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Squash Gods, They Work in Mysterious Ways

The dream didn't die it just changed. 17 years ago my son and I stepped onto a squash court and played a match for the first time. Over the years it was his dream, and maybe more mine, that he become a professional squash player. He never wanted to play collegiate squash and instead wanted to become a pro player. Little did we know what exactly that entailed and what we were getting ourselves into. Our good friend Jim Masland provided the best advice, "better have deep pockets." I dismissed this because being completely self made, there's never been any doubt that I could make anything happen. You have to live that way when you're in the process of making yourself into someone other than what economics or upbringing would do. It was our dream -- we lived and breathed it. We were up 5 am every morning to head over for training at LA Fitness in Lake Success, 10 minutes from where we lived. It wasn't easy rousing a slumbering kid who was up late surfing the net and playing video games: and the sub-zero temperatures didn't help. We'd stop off at Bagelman for coffee and some bagels, talk about the likes of whatever pro player caught our attention; and I was always defending and heightening the good old days, the likes of Jahnsher and Jahangir against my son's Nicol and Power. We seemed to challenge each other, like sons do with their fathers, with squash as the basis. "But you never saw the likes of Chris Ditmar or Rodney Martin..." He'd be so frustrated with me, because time and history were on my side. He hadn't yet achieved that history. but as he matured he studied the "good old days" like he would an important school assignment. He studied every detail of a player, the racket they played with, the strings they used; their technique was deconstructed. Eventually, it was I who was learning from him and he was teaching me how to watch squash, but transferring that into playing squash...well, that was another story. We drilled and drilled and we loved it. We were sort of like the Sanford and Son of squash, we became competitive and often to many observer very entertaining to watch and listen to. We would annoy each other, but it disguised an underlying closeness and love that only a father and son can have -- I could never have imagined this because my father was never there when I was growing up. We found a common ground where we were equal and where we could stand in the court with it's white walls and simple, but emphatic boundaries. For me, it was a place apart from all the stress of raising children as a single parent and working in pressure cooker technology jobs...and for him, I think it was where he stood, with his dad, where he wasn't judged by his peers, his teachers, his friends and enemies, he was just someone who loved this game more than anything and had this dream. I was fortunate I was able to send him to camps and employ some really excellent coaches. Some were good others were really great. Mike Way was probably the greatest influence on my son. They both have similar squash minds. We ran into Mr. Way at last year's Tournament of Champions and talked at length. I am my son's father in almost every facet of his life, but Mr. Way became my son's squash father. I watched them talk; they hadn't seen each other in a long time. You had the sense they just picked up where they left off when my son was a junior player. And then the harsh reality, that squash in the US is really a very elitist sport, it's expensive to get really good, and extremely expensive if you want to go on the pro tour. We went to India for a year, thinking that it would be better to be there and short flights to a lot of smaller professional tournaments. But stuck in Bangalore, India, we were just barely able to play squash and train let alone launch a pro career. There were no good players, but we would not be deterred. We devised drills to simulate match play, and we discovered climbing stairs. We lived in a ten story apartment building and we trained on the stairs. The results were astounding, my son became so incredibly fit. That squash dream would not die, we trained very hard. He had no idea how, with a torn meniscus, I could drill him. With enough Advil, I was mobile enough to pressure him beyond his ability and fitness. We came back to the US and the lack of match play was evident. My son was in college, there was no squash at his school, so he played and coached out of various clubs in the City. We kept pushing and pushing, there had to be a way, and yes, "deep pockets" indeed were mandatory. The pressure to make a mark in tournments and open up some doors was tremendous. It was a tough time, financially and personally, the collapse in 2008 had an immense impact on a lot of people, including myself; the worst part was that reality began to set in that pro squash just might not happen. My son tried playing the PST and went to the UK to train with Steve Townsend. He pushed hard for matches, to make some inroads, but it just wasn't happening. It was becoming more and more evident, that money reality; his Egyptian coach spelled it out, yes, it comes down to money, simply money, 100,000 USD each year for a couple of years to launch a pro squash career. And that seemed to be the truth. We talked about mortgaging everything to make that happen, working two jobs, even three, which I did for a while. But then, it happened. M son decided law school was more important than pro squash. I know he struggled with this, he was a good student and had some lofty legal ambitions and didn't know if he could get those high entrance exam scores. but this is where squash provided a blueprint for some other successes in his life. He saw himself go from a chubby kid into a fine athelete and realized what it took for him to accomplish that. He went and did exactly for law school what he did for squash and knowing the expense of law school (as expensive as a prof squash career launching), he studied like a man possessed. He scored high on his entrance exams and won a prestigious full scholarship at a renowned law school. So that was what it was all about? I'm not religious, but They do work in mysterious ways. My son and I are lucky enough to have an early morning game here and there. I often stop between points and egg him on with a comment about this pro or that pro and the banter is like familiar music from the past, it's special, it takes you back to a really great time. In my minds eye, I see that chubby kid on the court, with great hands and a squash IQ through the roof, now an aspiring attorney who talks about nothing but law and his work. When we talk about squash, it's usually a text here and there suggesting we watch this match or that match and even the text that cancels our match brings a smile to my face, hey, he's living the dream, doing what he loves. When we get off court after playing, he invariably says in passing, "Dad, you have no idea how much I miss this game, how much I love it." I want to tell him how much I miss our squash, how much I miss him and that dream we had; but, he's already hit the showers and is off to the library.