As Nicol Ann David strides in Astro AWANI’s office with a wide smile, it is rather surprising that she appears to be slightly smaller than you would imagine her on-screen and in photos.
The eight-time squash world-champion, deified by millions of fans all around the world, has been dogged by questions about what she would do next after announcing her retirement last February.
“Now is the time for me to give back,” says Nicol. Her last tournament will be in June.
“I want to help kids out there to get into sports, especially girls. I am going to do this through the Nicol David Foundation,” adds the 35-year-old.
Among her immediate plans, to work closely with the Professional Squash Association (PSA) to raise the profile of the sport – still not part of the Olympics.
I want to help kids out there to get into sports, especially girls. I am going to do this through the Nicol David Foundation
Nicol herself, like most squash players, have for many years advocated for its inclusion; no question that a gold medal in the games would be the pinnacle for any athlete.
(The World Squash Federation's third consecutive appeal to have the sport included in the Olympics was recently rejected)
Success did not come easy for Nicol, who has won almost every major title in the world. She attributes her longevity in the career to great family support, and her long-time coach, Liz Irving.
“I guess it comes with a little bit of talent as well. But I believe if it wasn’t for Liz, I would have probably left the sport a long time ago,” she says of the Australian coach. “I would not have found the passion in squash.”
“My parents are my true supporters; they did not push or pressure me. Instead, they gave me the trust and chance to explore so I can fulfil my dream,” says Nicol.
Despite having rigorous training schedules, the SMK Convent Green Lane alumni did well in her academics - scoring 7A’s in both PMR and SPM examinations.
“Everything I learned from training in squash - the discipline, focus and time management – I applied it all in my studies.
“But I did enjoy Mathematics! So, when the time came where I had to make a decision to do sports or go to university, I made a deal with my parents!
“Since I receive funding from the National Sports Council to train, I asked them (parents) to let me play for one year and see what happens. If things don’t work out, I will go to university. But I kept on extending that one-year deal,” says Nicol with a laugh.
Nicol’s ability was evident at an early age; she became won the 1999 World Junior Championship at just 15 years of age. She repeated the feat in 2001.
But she knew quite early on, in order to go far as a professional athlete, she needed more international exposure.
“I knew I was good, but that time, I felt that other players started to ‘know my game’. I felt stagnant. So, I left for Amsterdam at Liz’s invitation.”
“She was coaching and competing at that time, but she was open to just having me at Squash City.”
Located in Amsterdam, the sports venue is where Nicol eventually called home for over 16 years. She lived a five-minute bike ride away.
“I really liked it from the get-go, and she had so much experience and exposure,” says Nicol, who credit Liz forelevating her career to another level. Liz had coached another world champion Vanessa Atkinson.
Big Potential Among Junior Players
Winning athletes know discipline is the cornerstone of success, and it’s no different for Nicol.
“When you are individual athlete, you have to do it yourself - no one else is going to do it for you,” she emphasises. “Your coach is there only to assist.”
“I had a great training program with a physical trainer, physiotherapist and psychologist. But in the end, I have to utilise them the best way possible. No one told me what I had to do - I plan my own training program - twice a day, six times a week.”
“I have never once missed a training day. I didn’t think about it. I just knew I had to do it. It’s just part of the deal if you are a professional athlete,” says Nicol.
We have all witnessed Nicol dazzle on the courts, as she elevates Malaysia at the global squash stage. Naturally, the question among many Malaysians is ‘Who will be the next Nicol David?’
“Being world number one is one thing, maintaining that position is another. I think it’s hard to replicate but I am sure there will be someone, who will be willing (to work hard) and reach number one,” says Nicol. “But maybe without the pressure to be like me."
“We have a lot of juniors; some with very big potential. It’s a matter of timing,” says Nicol.
Now that Nicol has retired, we can only hope that there will be more ‘Nicol-ettes’ to come.
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