Chloe Kalvo is a squash player who represents Norway. In this feature, she shares the story of the state of squash in Norway, her passion for the gym and fitness, and what it takes to be an athlete.
Furqan ur Rehman: How are you keeping fit during these challenging times?
Chloe Kalvo: Here in Norway, I’m currently, really enjoying spending some time doing exactly what I feel like doing and really listening to my body.
To keep fit I have been doing a lot of home-workouts and started out by running a lot. I’m not running as much anymore, but have recently signed up for a membership at one of the biggest CrossFit boxes in Oslo.
They have moved all of their equipment out in a park nearby. So, now I get to work out, be social (with a distance) and work on my tan, all at the same time.
So how long have you been playing squash?
I actually haven’t been playing squash for that long, compared to the others.
I started slowly when I was around 12, but back then I only trained once a week, tops. I didn’t start stepping up my training until I was about 15, and even then I still just did it for fun.
It was never something I considered doing professionally. I realized squash was something I wanted to do on a higher level when I went to university.
If you see a player like Raneem El Welily, she is incredibly talented, but there are also hours and hours of training, dedication and hard work put into it. Nobody gets to the top on talent, alone.
Do you feel there is a benefit in starting early or is it just a myth?
Obviously, I think there is a benefit in starting early. Mainly because of the number of hours they’ve spent on court. You get a head start. But of course, if you’re truly dedicated, you can make up for it later too.
Was this the first and only sport you played or did play other sports before finally realizing that squash is the one for you?
Squash was definitely not my first or only sport.
I have basically tried what feels like everything else before I stuck to squash.
I played football (soccer) for about 9 years, handball for about 5, tennis for 3, basketball for 2, dance for 4 and also tried out climbing and gymnastics.
In your opinion, what is the best age to get into squash?
That’s a hard question to answer I have seen and heard about a lot of people starting at the age of 5 or 9 (not sure why at those exact ages).
I guess if you start really early you’ll get a really good racket to eye coordination, but at the same time, you can easily get tired and bored with it and quit early as well.
What prompted the move into squash and who was your idol growing up?
What got me into squash must have been my brother celebrating his birthday at the squash club.
They used to have this offer where you could rent the entire club, play squash, basketball and hockey.
The owner thought I had some sort of talent, so I came back a week later to try out their junior program.
I have to admit I didn’t really have an idol growing up, as I didn’t know much about professional squash.
I just remember seeing and meeting Nick Matthew at one of the tournaments in Sweden. Since he was the only player I knew about, it quickly became him.
From a quick look at your social media, one can easily tell that you like being at the gym, how important do you think is fitness for an athlete’s success?
[laughs] I do enjoy the gym, I have to admit. I find it really motivating because you can easily track your improvement, compared to squash.
I also believe it’s important to, both, improve as an athlete and prevent injuries.
Squash is a rough sport. You need to be strong, explosive and able to keep it up for a long time.
It’s also rough on your joints and if you don’t build up all of the muscles around them, you might be out for a while.
Which body muscles are used the most in a game of squash?
This is probably no surprise, but there’s a lot of legs.
You need to be quick, lunge and get back up again. So doing all sorts of lunging variations is key.
You also need a strong core to be able to keep upright and not collapse as you hit the ball. Also working on your rotation muscles is recommended to get that.. rotation.
Stamina is important to perform in any sport, but in squash, stamina becomes everything. People say tennis is the same, but in reality, I have seen a lot of tennis players give up on squash. What makes squash so challenging and how do you build stamina?
The way I tend to explain to customers or friends what makes squash so challenging is, imagine running quick intervals and lunging nonstop for an hour. Pretty tough, right? I believe there is no better way to build squash stamina than doing squash specific movements.
By that I mean ghosting. You can be a great long-distance runner and still die after 15 min of squash because the stamina and movements are completely different.
Obviously running is good, but I wouldn’t run long distances to improve my squash. Intervals, ghosting, strength training and playing.
It’s common to hear people commenting: “what a talented player”, do you think calling someone talented might somehow undermine their hard work, and perhaps not everyone’s talent, some just work extremely hard, do you agree?
Of course, some players are more talented than others.
That’s the case in everything. Some just have a better understanding of the game, the angles, etc than others. But then again, you won’t get far by “just being talented”.
If you see a player like Raneem El Welily, she is incredibly talented, but there are also hours and hours of training, dedication and hard work put into it.
Nobody gets to the top on talent, alone.
Others are less talented, but extremely hard working and dedicated. They might need more time to master certain skills, but they will, because they work on it.
We hear a lot about players from England, Pakistan, Egypt, Malaysia & the USA when it comes to squash, how big is the squash scene in Norway and who is driving it?
Squash is growing very quickly as a hobby-sport here in Norway.
The memberships are extremely cheap, so a lot of people are slowly getting into it, and that is amazing.
I remember, just 5 years ago when I told people I played squash they hadn’t even heard of it.
Now basically everyone has tried it and loved it.
On the other hand, there are very few playing it seriously. Sometimes we even struggle to get a female 16 draw at nationals, which is really sad.
At university, I found it really hard [to play squash]. There were so many social events that I had to turn down, friends getting annoyed with me for rarely joining them in anything or not really drinking, once I did.
What are the challenges that you face doing what you love, squash?
The cost. At my level, a lot of training needs to be done and a lot of tournaments need to be played.
And you won’t make enough money to live from that. Far from it.
At the same time, it’s hard to be able to combine it with a job. It’s also hard to get any money sponsors, especially in Norway, where the sport is seen as a fun/hobby activity.
What is your favourite shot in squash?
Who doesn’t love a volley crosscourt nick?
What else do you besides Squash?
Well, I spend a lot of time in the gym. I just love it. I have also taken a few online classes and will now start studying physiotherapy full-time.
What is your most memorable win? And why?
It may not be a great win, but it changed everything for me.
I remember back in 2016 I started university and everything that follows. Partying, studying, got a boyfriend, etc. I basically quit squash completely in the first semester.
Then, at nationals in January 2017, after a semester of not training and just living life as a normal student, I won a match against a girl I had never even played a game against it.
I remembered thinking, if I can win this match now, even without training. Imagine what I can do if I actually train, and train hard?
That’s what got me into it 100% and later convinced me to actually try squash professionally.
Athletes have to lead a disciplined life. How hard it is, especially at a young age like yours to stay focused?
At university, I found it really hard. There were so many social events that I had to turn down, friends getting annoyed with me for rarely joining anything or not really drinking once I did.
I lived for a year in Barcelona, where I also struggled, in the beginning, to stay focused. I mean, the clubs there are amazing, especially for someone like me who loves reggaeton.
But after a while, you realize that it’s impossible to combine partying (even without really drinking) and professional squash.
You’re not able to recover well if you don’t sleep well enough.
But back home in Oslo, I haven’t found it that challenging actually. I have very understanding and active friends.
Instead of getting annoyed for not joining them on the nights out, we have dinner together, or we even workout together. It also helps having an older brother doing gymnastics professionally. A true idol and motivator for me.
Any favourites from the recent players, both men and women?
My good friend Moustafa El Sirty is someone we have to keep an eye out for.
I also have faith in the young, but extremely talented and hard-working champion, Ambre Allinckx.
What advice would you give anyone on the verge of turning pro in squash?
It might be scary at first, but I do believe that there is no harm in trying it. Go for it and see how it turns out. If it doesn’t work out, at least you’ve tried it and will never wonder “what if?”.
Any other words you’d like to add?
Thank you for this interview, it’s been a lot of fun!