Squash At Any Age

By Judy Stafford

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The lights were bright. The squash court quiet, except for laboured breathing. We were happy just to lay there haphazardly sprawled on the floor, recovering from a rambunctious squash lesson. These rules were simpler than the real game. After class, the children had to lay absolutely still - no wiggling, no talking. I was relieved to have a few minutes to recuperate. The kids were antsy and trying their best not to even giggle. In an instant, pitch black consumed us. Slowly, steadily, and with great patience and concentration, the wiggling could begin. One by one, like inchworms, each student had to crawl out of the court. The object? For everyone to sneak undetected past the motion sensors so the lights wouldn't turn on again. Challenging? Yes. Impossible? Not at all, but certainly a fun way to end an intense game.

Learning such an active and engaging sport, like squash, at any age, is a fabulous way to stay in shape, even into the senior years. It's played indoors in a specially designed squash court that's rectangular and fully enclosed by four very high walls. Opponents exert both physical and mental skills to rally a tiny rubber ball - smaller than a tennis ball and a lot softer than a golf ball. One advantage over tennis is you're not spending the majority of time retrieving the ball from the neighbour's court or over the fence. Both the upper and lower body gets a workout and therefore it's an efficient and fun way to exercise. It provides an excellent cardio workout, in fact, one hour can burn up to 1,000 calories. You have to like that!

However, Gina Mycock, 66, quickly counters, "We play squash just for fun, so to lose weight, it would probably be easier just to close the fridge." She and her older sister, Bev Kirk, play squash three times a week. Both profess to be "active seniors," though neither was really into sports until Gina's son, Scott, and his partner, purchased the Quadra 24-Hour Sports Club in Victoria three years ago. The women signed up, were hooked, and have never stopped playing since - not even when they went to Mexico last November.

"We took our rackets and played everyday, before the hot tub and after the bar," laughs Gina. Of course, she quickly realizes she meant the other way round, but perhaps they had a better game after a pitcher of margaritas.

Now avid participants, they enjoy the social aspect of the game almost as much as playing. They still like working out, which is how they started at the club, but they can also be found working behind the counter. And just to ensure people keep coming back, they bring in treats.

"We don't eat the cake and cookies, we just bake them. We help out at tournaments and manning the phones. The pay's not too good, but we like it," Gina laughs. "It's not a thong-wearing gym; it's a family place. People wear sweat pants. They bring their children, and one person even brought their dog and tied it up to a chair while they played squash. I had only joined a gym once before for a year, and I hated it."

Bev also helps with any sewing, as required, and admits, "It's very social, casual and relaxing. Everybody is so friendly. I'd encourage seniors to come here. There are a lot of older people, especially during the day. Because we all know each other, we recognize if anyone is new and we always say hello."

Gina and Bev have formed a small group who play squash together; sometimes there are seven of them, sometimes just one or two. But it doesn't matter. They're there to have fun. They love newbies and have taken on the role of "teachers" to many folks who have never played before.

"We're too old to get better, but we love helping others," says Gina. "You just play to the best of your ability. If you want to play hard, you can. If you want to just hit the ball and have fun, you can do that too."

When asked if they had ever been hurt, both ladies are quick to jump in and say no, but with a little prodding the truth comes out. Gina laughs when she remembers, "Well I have hit myself with my racket before. Oh, and so has my husband. Oh, and there was this one time, my grandson hit me in the nose and broke it. He didn't understand the word 'let.' That sure bled a lot."

Explaining the rules is part of the fun. "Let please" can be called when one player feels they cannot hit the ball without fear of hitting their opponent instead. Obviously, Gina's grandson, who also loves to beat Auntie Bev, still has a lot to learn about the game. But Gina and Bev's enthusiasm has turned playing squash into a family affair, with their children and grandchildren taking up the sport.

"We are strictly non-competitive," says Gina, "but when we are playing with others who take the game a little more seriously, we do give a little more effort and take our game up a notch or two."

Both born and raised on the Island, Bev has been married for 50 years and Gina and her husband's 50th anniversary is close behind - but the exact details are a little foggy. They do remember how many children and grandchildren they have however - eight of each between them.

The two travel together, sometimes with their husbands, sometimes without. Between a cottage on Mesachie Lake, just past Lake Cowichan Village, to a shanty in Sooke, they get to indulge in their other passions - fishing and hunting.

They play bridge and chess and, now retired, they don't know how they ever had time for jobs. Gina is even an EBay whiz, selling stuff from her house for the past two years. "I have a lot of stuff!"

But they always make time to play squash. And both Bev and Gina want to extend an invitation to anyone to meet them at the club. Say hi, and they will take you under their wings and show you the ropes on the squash court. But be warned; the stakes can get high. Practise your cooking skills before you take them on, because, according to their rules, the loser has to make the Yorkshire pudding.

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