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Squashed by the pandemic

How my Varsity Blues teammates are dealing with COVID-19
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The teams have been using Instagram to recreate a sense of community and engage with each other. COURTESY OF VARSITY BLUES
The teams have been using Instagram to recreate a sense of community and engage with each other. COURTESY OF VARSITY BLUES

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected many aspects of student life at U of T. One such aspect is Varsity sports. As the pandemic rages on, Ontario University Athletics has made the decision to cancel all winter championships, making the year of stricter training restrictions even more difficult for Varsity athletes. 

As a member of the Varsity Blues women’s squash team myself, I’ve felt these difficulties firsthand. I decided to speak with the captains of both the men’s and women’s Varsity Blues squash teams to find out how they are leading their teams with the COVID-19 guidelines.

Squash has been hit hard

Squash is a racket sport played by two players on a four-walled court. It is not a game that can be played outdoors or a game in which physical distancing is possible. “Squash probably got hit the hardest because it’s a sport where you are just with one person and in very close quarters,” Rhea Dhar, captain of the women’s team and my colleague, told me.

Both Dhar and men’s team captain Jonathan Fan agreed that they missed the social and competitive aspects of squash. “[I miss] training with the team because there’s a whole aspect of bonding with each other that’s really nice. And also, the competitive aspect of squash is really important… without that, there’s no motivation to train,” Fan said.

Getting through lockdown

The teams have been trying to stay connected through Zoom calls and by sharing their training programs with each other. On our Instagram page, the teams have been sharing videos of how we are staying fit, trying to engage each other in the team environment we all miss from pre-pandemic days.

Dhar spoke about the game she implemented at the beginning of the academic year, in which each member would come up with a home fitness challenge or workout, and the other members would complete the challenge. “I think it was fun to come up with different ideas on how to stay fit. And… I certainly still do some of those things,” Dhar said. 

Looking ahead to the ‘new normal’

Squash will have to adapt to fit in with the ‘new normal’ that we will enter once the pandemic is over. “Team practices will have to be with fewer people. Tournaments will just have to be fewer people at a time… a lot more training on your own. So things that are not necessarily vital to do as a team, you have to do on your own,” Dhar said.

“I think even after we get vaccines and everything, and this whole pandemic is over with, I think [we’ll] still [be] in the habit of being fearful of other people around us,” Fan added. “Right now, we have the habit of not shaking hands or, after matches, shaking hands with the player or the [referee]. So I think that’s going to be a habit for a while just because of fear.”

“There’s also going to be less people at… squash events, so that might be a negative because we’ve been trying to boost squash’s popularity as a sport for a while.”

All that being said, the two captains do look forward to being back on the courts with their teammates. Fan mentioned that he is excited to meet the new players and get back into a competitive mindset once again. Dhar is looking forward to coaching her teammates in the next in-person season. 

“I’m definitely going to appreciate all the practices a lot. Never miss a practice,” said Dhar.