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unexpected dreams A squash journey across the world by Ragini Ghose '19

As I enter my final competitive season as a student-athlete, I look back and think of how I got here. Growing up in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, sports were never at the forefront of my life. I first picked up a squash racket at the age of twelve as an extracurricular activity, with no desire or vision to play competitively. If you asked a fifteen year old me if saw myself playing squash at college, I would have laughed. At that age, I wasn’t entirely convinced that I had what it took to play a sport competitively at college. I knew what it took to be a student athlete, but I didn’t think it was for me.

However, what started off as an extracurricular activity quickly turned into an obsession. While most of my friends spent their free time having fun at the pool or going to school dances, most of my middle school memories were at the squash courts. Day after day, week after week, my mother would drive me to the squash courts and sit for hours while I ran a hundred court sprints and tried my hardest to hit 10 perfect shots in a row. I knew I wanted to compete, and I soon registered myself for a local tournament just to see how I would fare amongst the other girls my age in Dubai. It was nerve wracking and I struggled playing against girls my age because I had only ever practiced and played against boys, who played a very different game tactically. I also was not part of a team yet and so the only support I would have at tournaments would be from my parents and coach.

Despite my early struggles, my passion for squash increased with every tournament that I played. I wanted to get better, and was looking for a challenge to get me there. So, I moved halfway across the world to a boarding school in England in hopes of reaching the next level. As a young teenage girl, making that difficult choice of leaving the comfort of my home and family to further my squash game has till date been one of the hardest decisions I have had to make. I knew that in order to succeed and take my game to the next level, I would have to make this sacrifice, a decision which has been invaluable in hindsight. It’s never easy leaving home, but I believed in myself, and my passion for the game and found myself at Millfield, a co-ed sports boarding school located in south-west England.

Photo of Millfield House in England, courtesy of Millfield School

Contrary to my expectation, when I arrived at Millfield, I learned that there was nothing tailor made about my new surroundings. I found the adjustment to be very difficult, and the conflict in my mind was a result of struggling to adapt to the pressure of being a part of a top squash team, a new British academic system and being surrounded by athletes who were training to represent their country in the Olympics. I was homesick too, and to grow up quicker than I expected because I no longer had the comfort of being looked after at home. Unlike before, when I could go home after a long day at school, at Millfield I did not have an escape. Rather than my sports and academics complementing one another, I felt torn between two worlds: between squash and academics, between friends and squash and between Dubai and England.

Still, squash kept me afloat. My hunger and desire to play in college increased each year that I was a part of Millfield’s squash team. One match that I fondly recall, especially for the valuable lesson it taught me, took place on a March afternoon in Manchester. I was the last member of the Millfield Varsity squash team to step on court. My team had made it to the finals of the National Schools Tournament, and the success of an entire season rested on my shoulders. The pressure was on, not only because I was the team’s vice-captain, but also because Millfield had been the champions for 15 consecutive years. The last time they lost, I was a two year old toddler and ironically, it was by two points that I lost the crucial final set. On that day, I felt the worst I have ever felt while playing squash and even went to the extreme of questioning if I ever wanted to play again.

It was that experience that made me realize that I had not come this far and made the sacrifices I had made to simply quit and give up.

My three years at Millfield were what paved my path to Mount Holyoke. The feeling of being a part of a team and representing a school outweighed my early apprehensions of playing squash at college. My first taste of playing on the American squash circuit was at a squash camp at Amherst College during the summer of my junior year in high school. Little did I know that I would spend the next four years just down the road. Choosing Mount Holyoke was an easy decision for me to make. The small classroom experience, beautiful campus, liberal arts education and athletic program made this the perfect fit for me.

Mount Holyoke truly is everything I could have wished for and more. As a senior, I look back and think of the six and a half semesters that have gone by and the challenges that accompany the difficult task of balancing academics at a prestigious liberal arts college while being on a sports team. Mount Holyoke provided a new challenge for me. As a first year back in 2015, I was welcomed into the Squash team by my amazing teammates who helped make me feel at home and guided me through my first year at college. Adapting to a new country, friends, culture and academic system can be a challenge for any 18 year old. Having a full class schedule combined with intense practice sessions while adapting to a new coaching style sounded daunting on paper.

Mount Holyoke provided me with support and guidance every year that I have been here. Being a Lyon, and a part of the Mount Holyoke Athletics community, is so special to me.
Since my first year here I have been given the opportunity to grow as a person, develop as a player, and not only adapt to a new surrounding, but thrive in it. I am no longer feeling torn between two worlds.

One of the most rewarding aspects of my student-athlete experience at Mount Holyoke has been the opportunity to experience brilliance everywhere I look. From the classrooms to the hallways of Kendall, there is not a day that has gone by where I have not learned something. Being a part of this team has taught me more than just squash skills. The values and lessons I have learned will stick with me forever because they have made me a better person both on and off the court. I have learned how to prioritize when necessary, persevere through difficult situations and most importantly, be supportive of for my peers every step of the way.

To my teammates past and present, over the past three seasons, I have experienced the true meaning of loyalty, commitment and determination. As a team, we have had good days and bad days, crushed opponents and have been crushed, yelled with anger and yelled with excitement, but through the blood, sweat and tears (literally), there is no one I would have rather shared this experience with. I have experienced my fair share of injuries during my time at Mount Holyoke, but with the care of the Athletic Trainers, support and guidance from my coach and motivation from my teammates, there have been days where I have hobbled over to Kendall and have managed to play five set matches thanks to the collective support of the community.

It is rewarding experiences like these that have made and shaped my Mount Holyoke experience, one that I’ll never forget.

Mount Holyoke after they won the 2019 Seven Sisters Tournament

As I enter the final stretch of my student-athlete experience, I look back and think of how fortunate I am to have had the opportunity to be a student-athlete at Mount Holyoke. The student-athlete journey that I started as a child in Dubai, ends in South Hadley where I’m now an adult. It’s the years in between filled with memories of joy, hardship, success, and failure that have made all of it so incredibly worthwhile and rewarding.

Thank you Lyons Nation for the most amazing four years and to my family who have supported me every step of the way. Mount Holyoke Forever Shall Be!

Created By
Ragini Ghose '19
Appreciate

Credits:

Millfield School, RJB Sports Photography

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