By Chad Ouellette
Fourteen-year-old Iman Shaheen is already proving her chops in the world of squash. Having picked up the sport just four years ago, she isn’t shy about her ambitions – saying that she someday wants to be the top player in the world.
Shaheen’s been on a tear this season. There was a bronze medal in the under-15 category at the April 11-14 junior nationals in Edmonton, a U19 gold medal facing older competitors at the Quebec provincials and an appearance for Team Quebec at the Canada Games, and a silver medal at the Ontario provincials. At that event, she fell to Oakville’s Amal Izhar, who she says she plays against often, in the final.
“It was a really good tournament,” she recalls. “It was a really good match – the person I played in the finals. It isn’t the first time she has beaten me. All of our games are so close, every single time. I beat her 3-0 one time, but every single game we play can go either way and she always puts up an amazing match. Everyone I played was super good so I was very happy with the tournament I went to.”
Before becoming a competitive squash player, Shaheen played a plethora of sports ranging from swimming to soccer. Unfortunately, the chlorine in the pool often irritated her skin.
“(My parents) had to pull me out of swimming, but my dad wanted to play another sport so he said ‘here’s a racket, here’s a ball, hit it,” Shaheen said.
“I guess we have to thank the eczema for something,” she added with a laugh.
The decision to play squash has benefited her greatly and the way the game is played also fits her personality.
“I don’t mind small teams,” she revealed. “Like doubles badminton and stuff like that. When it comes to big teams – well one, I’m a ball hog, and two, I’m not that good when it comes to communication, it just doesn’t interest me as much.”
Shaheen explains that many of her squash skills came naturally when she entered the sport, but due to her age, her core strength wasn’t at a level to where her swings weren’t mechanical.
Four years later, she can be seen on the court dominating men twice her age. She says that after routinely playing against people much stronger and faster than she was, she became grew accustomed to it. Through this means of training she’s learned how to play against different styles of players and knows what to watch for when competing against a new opponent.
“Generally I like to attack, and I like to set up rallies to make a person move and tire, and often get annoyed at me,” Shaheen said.
Shaheen often thinks of long-term goals, because she feels that they are something that she’ll be prouder of accomplished. They’re also a better test to her perseverance.
She looks up to Nour El Sherbini, the current No. 2 player in the Professional Squash Association (PSA) World Tour. El Sherbini became the youngest woman to win the world championship of squash at just 20 years old.
“My goal is to enter the PSA, and beat her. My biggest goal isn’t to become No. 1 (in the world) but to also beat her record of twenty years old,” Shaheen said of El Sherbini, who she shares Egyptian heritage with.
Shaheen also notes that there’s one person above all who she credits for having an impact on her as not only an athlete, but on a personal level as well: Her first coach, Jean Larabie. Surrounded by loved ones, Larabie died on Feb. 26 after a long battle with lung cancer.
“I just kind of want to say thank you to him. He’s the one who basically bump-started me to where I am right now. Without him I wouldn’t be where I am. He was someone who encouraged me to keep going and made things fun for me and made me continue playing. He was the most smiley person in the world,” Shaheen said.