YORKTON - If you mention squash to most people in Saskatchewan they likely think of something grown in the garden for the kitchen table.
But it is also a sport with roots dating back to the mid 1800s, and now played around the world,
What is also likely not known by most in the province, even among sport fans, is that one of Canada’s best squash players had her start in Regina.
While today Nikki Todd excels at squash it was not a case of love at the first swing of the racquet.
Todd was introduced to the sport by her father, a regular at one of the two spots in Regina with squash courts.
“He got my brother involved,” she said, adding she was next to give the sport a try.
“I didn’t like it,” adding she was not good at it at all.
But, as her brother became better at the sport, which led to him getting to travel to play, she was intrigued.
“I came back to it,” said Todd, adding by that time she was 14.
“I’d played just about every other sport by then.”
The experience playing other sports would prove the difference. Todd was stronger and had better hand-eye coordination by the second time she tried squash, and those attributes changed things.
“I fell in love with the sport,” she said.
Looking back now Todd said she had to come to terms with the fact squash is hard.
“Development isn’t easy. Squash is tough,” she said, adding her first time experiencing the sport she may have simply been too young. “I didn’t pick up the sport quickly (then). I got frustrated.”
Of course once she had fallen for squash Regina was not the most conducive place to develop.
“I was lucky my brother was very good, and Dad was better than me,” said Todd.
But, in time she would move to Ontario to continue to develop as a squash player.
“I didn’t really know if it was something I’d be able to do long term, if it was a dream I’d never achieve,” said Todd of the move east, but it did work out.
The development has put Todd among the best in Canada, eventually being named to Team Canada.
Recently, Todd represented Canada at the World Games in Birmingham, AL.
“It was really cool. It was my first World Games,” she said.
While suggesting it had been exactly what to expect, Todd also said, “it was different from what I expected, but in a good way – it was an amazing environment.”
Todd, is not new to international play for Canada placing fifth at the Commonwealth Games in 2017, and earning a pair of silver medals at the 2015 Pan Am Games.
But, she noted both those international events have a limited roster of participating countries. The World Games was simply larger in scope.
“It was really cool seeing all the different countries involved,” she said. “. . . It was a treat for anyone to play there.”
On a personal level the World Games was not as good as Todd would have hoped. In the second round of play she took on the top-seeded Tinne Gilis of Belgium (13th in the world), losing in straight sets 11-7, 11-4.
In world rankings Todd reached a career high of number-49 in 2016, and is currently ranked #52.
The World Games sport roster is always a rather diverse one ranging from sports such as women’s softball, 6v6 lacrosse, and squash, to lesser known sports such as kayak polo and sumo wrestling. The common thread bonding the varied sports together being the hope the World Games exposure might springboard them into the Olympics one day.
Todd said that is certainly what squash is hoping for, adding she was excited Olympic officials attended the Birmingham event for an up close look at the sports involved.
“I actually hadn’t realized the IOC was going to be there looking at all the different sports,” she said. “That was really cool to see.”
As for squash in the Olympics, Todd said she dreams of the day, adding “hopefully in my lifetime.”
As it stands, the career highlight for Todd came at the Pan Am Games held in Toronto in 2015, where she and partner Samantha Cornett faced the American duo of Amanda Sobhy and Natalie Grainger in the gold medal final.
“We were supposed to get clobbered,” said Todd, but the pro Canadian fans helped. “The stands were so packed and they were so loud.”
In the end the Americans would prevail, but just barely Todd and Cornett forced the match to three games (11-9, 9-11, 11-6).
“We played our best and were very happy with it,” said Todd.
Todd said she is now focusing on a big event in December; the WSF World Team Squash Championships, an international competition organised by the World Squash Federation and played between teams representing different nations.
The competition is held once every two years, and will be in Egypt in 2022.
“Egypt is the best in the world (in squash). They’re amazing,” said Todd.