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Andrea Fjellgaard: Battling MS to becoming a leading squash pro

Andrea Fjellgard grew up on a tiny island in Norway, called Lovund where she first began to play the game of squash. Since then, she has taken the game by storm in Norway, and is now playing on the Professional Squash Association World Tour.

At the age of 24, her journey on the squash court has not come without its challenges. From dealing with serious back injuries to coming to terms with a multiple sclerosis diagnosis, Andrea has had intense battles both on and off the court.

However, her perseverance, grit and determination has helped her continue with her ambition to reach the top. Join us in this deep dive into her life and how she have overcome challenges to play the beautiful game!

In proud collaboration with the Professional Squash Association.

Andrea Fjellgaard poses for the camera
Andrea Fjellgaard. Source: Supplied

Zushan Hashmi: From an island of 500 people to the PSA World Tour. How did you come across squash?

Andrea Fjellgaard: Well, I had never heard about squash before we got a court on the island. They built a squash court on Lovund in 2002 and Lovund Squashklubb (Lovund squash club) was established.

At that point I think there were one or two people on the island who had played or tried squash before, so the competence wasn’t very high. After some time when people got more into it, I started to go down to the court with my mum and dad, and I loved it instantly.

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In such a naturesque, ‘outdoorsy’ environment, one would think you have picked up a more ‘traditional’ outdoor sport. What made you pursue squash in the long term and why?

[Laughs] Yeah. Well, when I grew up on the Island we had the common sports like football, all sports/activity classes and volleyball, I attended all of them too. I played football for 10 years, but in my school year there were only two of us, so I played and competed with the boys for all those years.

There is some incredible nature out there with big mountains, forests and the ocean, but we didn’t have that much snow, because of the wind. We got a cabin in Sweden where I was skiing both cross country and down hill.

I think the thing that made me pursue squash in the long term was primarily the love of the game. But it was also a sport where I could train a lot on my own.

Since an early age I always set high demands for myself and had a huge competitive instinct – so I loved to push myself and only depended on my self to put the work down.

I would say to anyone who face challenges due to injuries, illness or anything else that they should not set boundaries for themselves, and more importantly they should not let anyone else set boundaries for them.

Tell me a little bit more about Lovund the community and squash there?

Well, the business community on Lovund is unique. They made the squash court on Lovund become a reality, and their continuous support to the club made all of this possible for me and still gives juniors and other members at the club the opportunity to play squash, whether it is for fun, to be active or to play national or international squash.

I am so proud and glad to come from Lovund. To grow up in a small community with people and a business community that builds you up and cheers for you all the way. I still have partners/sponsors from the area on and around Lovund that have been on my team from the start and stuck there through the ups and downs.

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As for squash, after me there were some quiet years, with a few juniors at the club. At the Junior National Championship 2020, which was arranged in August, there was great participation from the Lovund Squashklubb and the girls brought home 3 medals in the Girls under-15 and 2 medals in Girls under-17. So, things are on the up!

Without any coaches, you learnt a lot of the game on YouTube. What was that experience like, and more importantly, what was it like transitioning from self-teaching to having a coach?

I didn’t have anything to compare it to, so for me it was all good. Of course it was hard to do everything correct and I didn’t have anyone to correct me. But it was the best I got, and it’s all about doing the best out of what you get.

The transition yes [laughs]. Well, I still don’t have a coach, but we have national coaches who have weekend squads four-to-five times a year, and I have been to some camps where I have worked with them.

When I work with a coach I realise that all the independent work I have done has actually helped me. As I always pay so much attention, ask questions, and want to understand and feel every hit of the ball. So I got pretty nerdy to the game quite early.

Andrea Fjellgaard on the squash court
Andrea Fjellgaard on the squash court. Source: Supplied

At 24 you’ve had your fair share of challenges with injuries and illness. What has it been like to continue playing squash with your multiple sclerosis (MS) diagnosis?

Physically, it doesn’t affect me that much right now. There are some days where I might need to rest a bit more, but I have to take the positives out from that as well.

I think the biggest changes have been mentally, as I appreciate every second so much more. 

More and more people give up without the right support, when it comes to MS, yet here you are playing the game professionally and coaching it, what do you say to others who are challenged by MS or other illnesses that affect the central nervous system, and want to pick up a game like squash?

I would say to anyone who face challenges due to injuries, illness or anything else that they should not set boundaries for themselves, and more importantly they should not let anyone else set boundaries for them.

Find the joy in the activity and appreciate the things you can do and the progress you make, whether it is physical or mental. Then I would say that it’s important to listen to your body and do the adjustments that are required.

There was a lot going on at the same time at one point there, and even though I felt a bit sorry for myself, just wanted to lay in bed and didn’t know how everything would affect me – The only thing I truly wanted to do was to go to training.

I cannot imagine that it is easy, yet you continue, how do you look after your mental health on days where you’re not up for a game or have felt ‘lost’ due to illness or injury?

Well the joy and eagerness to put in the work and train always stuck with me. There was a lot going on at the same time at one point there, and even though I felt a bit sorry for myself, just wanted to lay in bed and didn’t know how everything would affect me – The only thing I truly wanted to do was to go to training.

So, I managed to get myself up everyday and put down the work. For me it was never an alternative to let any of these set backs stop me, so no matter how long it took – I would be ready when that time came!

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I also have the most amazing mental coach and physiotherapist who have helped me through some challenging times and keep on challenging me all the time. As well as sponsors, family and friends believing in me and cheering for me all the way – which is priceless for my motivation and self-belief.

The Norwegian Island of Lovund
The Norwegian Island of Lovund. Source: Supplied

Today, what do people say in Norway when you tell them that you play squash professionally? And how is that different to when you were younger (if at all)?

 Most people don’t know that people play squash professionally [laughs], but when I say it people are very curious and asks a bunch of questions about the game, the tour  and so on. So, most people know of the sport, but think it’s a hobby sport. When I was younger, most people didn’t even know of the sport.

Do you think there are a lot of opportunities to grow the game there? Considering it can virtually be played all-year round, unlike some other outdoor sports?

Absolutely! The federation is doing a great job now as well, the sport is growing and we have got better players than ever before. It’s a great sport for a country like Norway, as we have all these seasons with a lot of weather, adding to the fact that we are a long country with a lot of small communities. You don’t need that much equipment or that many people to play. I really hope to see more people in Norway get the joy and the health benefits from squash in the near future!

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And on a personal level, what challenges have you set for yourself, both on the PSA World Tour and on the court?

Well, when I got this far with my background and prerequisites I think that the sky’s the limit. I will keep on working everyday to improve as an athlete and a squash player.

I believe that I can play on the PSA worldtour, I believe that I can play in the World Championship and I believe that I can make it to the top. And with that in mind, with the right team and partners and last but not least, the joy of the sport and the work that has to be done – I think I can go as far as I want to!

Andrea Fjellgaard on the squash court
Andrea Fjellgaard on the court. Source: Supplied

With the tour back on, what’s next on your squash calendar and why?

The world is facing difficult times at the moment. Tournaments are getting cancelled and rescheduled, I have had a good autumn and got to play some local tournaments, but now things stand a bit still.

I am now waiting for 2021, and continuing to put down the work to be ready for the opportunities when they comes!

Whatever battles you’re fighting or what prerequisites or background you have – take what you have and make the most out of it. Everything is possible if you believe in yourself and your dreams.

Any other thoughts or comments?

I would encourage everyone to follow your dreams. Whatever battles you’re fighting or what prerequisites or background you have – take what you have and make the most out of it. Everything is possible if you believe in yourself and your dreams. And last but not least: have fun and enjoy the journey!


You can follow Andrea Fjellgaard on Instagram and Facebook.
For more squash visit Sportageous.

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