Hit, miss. Hit, miss. Hit, miss.
I was swinging my racket at a tiny black ball inside a new state of the art squash box at Squash on Fire, and it was not going well.
“Keep your eye on the ball, you have to pursue it- it won’t come to you, keep your feet on the ground, stay relaxed when you swing”
Thwack! I finally hit the ball and coach Elroy and I were off, hitting back and forth until I’d broken out in a visible sweat.
I didn’t believe Nadine Arsenyev, real estate developer and owner of Squash on Fire, when she told me the sport was addictive- but after forty five minutes with a coach I felt comfortable on the court and wanted to keep playing.
Children in Washington DC who play squash will have a much easier entry into the sport than my coach, Elroy Leong. Leong was born and raised in Malaysia where, as a toddler his mom would leave him in a locked squash box with a racket and ball at the gym his family owned, while she did her errands. With no other option, he took to the sport. He played other sports like soccer, but came to the U.S. to attend Trinity College and played competitive squash throughout.
As Nadine Arsenyev gave me a tour of the facility we chatted about squash’s growing popularity in the US. There are now 200+ teams and clubs at colleges in the United States, and this meant that talent scouting was growing. Top talent usually comes from overseas where the sport is more popular. Squash was born in the UK, where the first game was played in a London prison, and spread to the Middle East via colonization- the rest of the world plays a lot more squash than we do.
Squash on Fire looks to give kids a leg up on using the sport to get into top colleges. On the third floor of the facility is a lounge and outdoor patio overlooking M Street. It looks like the breakout space in a tech office but this, Nadine tells me, is where budding athletes can do homework, and work with tutors. Squash parents are kind of intense, my three kids play squash see says, we all do.
Over Memorial Day weekend they will host their first youth tournament. The facility was designed with these events in mind, every court has cameras capable of capturing the match, which can be as short as five minutes. I’m told that squash has not been an olympic sport because old technology could not track a little black ball at 200mph, but these cameras can. Additionally nine TV screens are mounted above the bar, presumably where parents will take the edge off or celebrate during the competition.
Kids can start as young as 6 using balloons or tennis balls, I’m wondering if I can bring my toddler in- but it seems I’ll have to wait. The sport is perfect for urban kids, and kids who travel, Nadine assures me I can find a squash court at any international destination. Squash on Fire will have summer camps June 5th-August 11th. We want to be accessible, you can sign your kid up for a day, a week, or for the entire time says Nadine. But I anticipate, most kids will really take to the sport, and during the DC heat I’m not sure if you’d want to be anywhere less cool.
I’m not just talking about air conditioning at Squash on Fire. The facility is modern, and beautiful – designed by Mexican architect Enrique Norten, with furniture from the Swiss company, Vitra. The second floor has a workout space, locker rooms with showers, and overlooks every court. Additionally the coaches are world renowned, head coach Amir Wagih has played at 6 World Team Squash Championships and won the title for Egypt, his home country, in 1999. If all that weren’t enough the bar will also serve food, this really is the dream space of every Type-A DC mom (myself included).
Squash on Fire opens this Saturday. And if you’re wondering about the name and logo, as I was- it pays homage to their location. The gym is right above a fire station (and below 61 affordable housing units)- literally squash on top of fire. And the Dalmatian is of course the dog of every fireman. I think kids old enough for the camps will find this type of play on words quite humorous, sign them up for a camp and ask them yourself!
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