‘I couldn’t get into my gold jacket because of lockdown lard but at least I came away with two gold medals’
By ORLA O’DOHERTY (Squash Mad Correspondent)
The Danish people have an excellent sense of humour. “I see you brought someone to carry your bags,” joked Skipper, the driver of the Herlev Squash Bus last weekend, noticing that I was carrying a squash bag, while my partner Annabelle casually boarded the vehicle.
Annabelle laughed and replied “Yes, she’s my bag lady,” and I of course was more than happy to play along. I suppose she does look like the athlete between us, so it wasn’t too surprising that the short, stocky woman behind her was clearly just the bag carrier.
Airline luggage costs are astronomical these days, so we combined our squash gear into one bag. I won the toss to carry it on the way to the club, and she would carry it back.
The 2022 Danish Masters Open was the second tournament I’ve played since Covid put an abrupt and mandatory weight-gain programme on all of us. I’ve exceeded the ‘Lets-put-on-some-kilos-Covid-plan’, and successfully acquired a fair amount of weight in the last 18 months.
Gone are the days of my luminous calf stockings and brightly coloured skirts. Gone are the days of my Gold Jacket. I can’t count the number of times those who actually did recognise my rounder face asked “have you got your Gold Jacket with you?” to which I replied: “I can’t fit in it any more.”
But I’m embracing my new shape. (Somebody has to). I can’t blame Covid for everything. Admittedly, I indulged in far too many jelly beans over Christmas, but I swear by the fact that this damn peri-menopause has got an awful lot to do with my new size. I can’t so much as glance at a pint of Heineken, and this former European Over 45s superstar will gain two kilos just by sniffing it.
Many squash players boast about their new hips or knees. “I used the break during Covid to get replacements,” they’ll say.
“Me too!” I reply smugly. “Two new hips, much bigger than the ones I had a few years ago”. They are left confused.
I digress. As we wandered into the beautiful club that is Herlev in Copenhagen, (me, apparently carrying Annabelle’s squash bag), I inhaled that glorious aroma that is Eau De Squash Courts. We all love it, don’t we? It doesn’t matter how much time we’ve been away from the courts. Nothing can beat that old familiar smell. We should have bottled it and sprayed it around to beat the lockdown blues.
I carefully placed Annabelle’s squash bag on the ground in order to access my black studded handbag which was flung over my shoulder. Approaching the tournament desk, a tall gentleman smiled, eyeing me up and down, my handbag now firmly straddled between my giant boobs (I obviously had an enhancement during Covid – cost me a fortune). He then noticed Annabelle, the tall, slender, good-looking one, clearly a squash player and one of only seven women in the tournament.
“Is this where we check in?” I asked.
“Ah, yes. Both of you?” came the reply. “Your name please?” to which I launched into my usual “well it might be Doherty, or it might be O’Doherty, you see it’s a long story but…” Luckily Annabelle stepped in suggesting he look at the very short ladies list, and look for the name ‘Orla’.
Hmmmph… of course he found me right away and crossed me off, giving it an extra scribble just to emphasise that ‘we’ve got a big one here’ …
Annabelle checked in too, and then came the “what size t-shirt would you like?” I was happy to see that the T-shirts were Uni-sex, which meant I could actually fit into a size small. These days, wearing ANYTHING small is quite a novelty.
Once we collected our T-shirts and asked how the Danish beer tasted (that’s always a good conversation starter), I turned to see a happy-looking grey-haired man standing next to me.
“Ah, you must be John, John Rif?”, I recognised him from Facebook. He had been defending his decision all week to seed Karin Thiel ahead of me, based on current ESF rankings. Karin didn’t want to be seeded number one, as she’d never beaten me and she felt it wouldn’t be fair. According to Facebook and the large number of ESF members, it was quite possible to re-do the draws, but John was having none of it.
“I am John, yes. Hello, and you are?” he smiled.
“Orla” I replied… waiting for the ‘Oh, not what I expected’ look on his face.
I was beginning to enjoy this a little too much. I admit, I had complained after the Swiss Open two weeks earlier, that there had only been one women’s match played on the glass court. John assured me it would be different this time around, here in Denmark. (For the record, the Swiss tournament was organised brilliantly by Rino Mathis in a fantastic facility in Uster).
“You’ll get two matches on the glass court, but you know it’s a very different court, you probably won’t like it, it’s not like a regular court,” I was told by John, referring to my post-Swiss-event complaint.
Having played many times on a glass court, I smiled and said I couldn’t wait to give it a go.
Now don’t get me wrong, all joking aside, I’m completely fine with the way I look these days. I am definitely not fat-shaming. I am not the ultra-fit, ultra-slim 48-year-old of three years ago, but I AM still alive.
If I can’t laugh at myself, then what’s the point? I’m using my extra padding as a disguise. People who see the portly, comely looking lady with the handbag waddling around the club, (does anyone remember Suzanne Horner, former WISPA player? She went everywhere with her handbag) are clearly excited to see an older female player giving squash a go.
I like to think my looks are deceiving. There’s this chubby lady carrying the tall blonde lady’s racket bag. I imagined they were saying “What’s she all about? She’s in the tournament, isn’t she? Can’t be very good.”
While I’m on the topic of over-indulging, I have to compliment the club’s kitchen staff on outstanding and delicious food. Honestly, the quiches, the meatballs, the salads, the cakes! And SO much of it readily available. They didn’t do me any favours as far as my new weight-loss plan goes, but I wasn’t complaining.
As far as friendly staff goes, these guys were top notch. I don’t remember everyone’s name, but I do remember Mikkel, Soren and Tanya, all of whom were extremely warm and pleasant.
I enjoyed a few Danish beers after every match. I danced the salsa at the players’ party. I sucked at Foozball (those Italians were amazing). I went on a little wooden roller coaster at Tivoli Gardens that we initially thought was a gentle choo-choo train that might take us for a little jaunt. Boy, were we mistaken. I screamed throughout the entire ride, but then lay beneath the starry sky and watched the most spectacular fireworks display at midnight.
I did my Suzanne Horner’s handbag number on all my matches, channeling her as I waltzed onto the glass court, owning that white ball and the bright lights above, which enabled me to blind my opponents with an annoying lob serve.
“You’ve obviously played a fair bit,” I heard from one bystander. “You’re pretty handy,” from another. “You’ve got beautiful technique,” all with an element of shock in their voices.
I know, I know, I’m probably exaggerating, but I am taking poetic license in imagining that most people who met me for the first time, did not believe I was a good squash player, simply based on how I looked.
The good news is, I don’t care. I’m 51 and I am playing squash at a fairly decent level. And I’m back training and I’m loving it. The tournament in Denmark was absolutely brilliant and extremely enjoyable. I hope that next year’s event is bigger and better than ever. I promised John that we’d be back and would be bringing ‘ALL THE WOMEN!’, so I need to stick to that promise.
One of the best things about being back at these events, is the people I reconnected with. The Masters Squash community is second to none in friendliness and good fun. That alone is a reason to keep playing. I won two gold medals (Over 40s and Over 50s). Annabelle finished third, winning two bronze medals.
After the presentations I looked at her and said “Mine are bigger than yours,” and a very cunning Allen Barwise, (winner of the Men’s Over 60s) sitting next to us chuckled “Hope you’re talking about the medals.”
There are about nine weeks until the World Masters, and I’ll continue doing what I’m doing, in order to be ready for that. No more jelly beans, as I would like to shrink my boobs just enough so that the Gold Jacket will zip up at least.
And, who knows, maybe I’ll have two new and improved sets of hips by then!
Orla O’Doherty writes some fun stuff. And also tells some funny tales. If you’d like to read more of her tongue-in-cheek essays, check out her blog at www.orladoherty.com
Pictures courtesy of Orla O’Doherty and Facebook