Noorena Shams is one of the few female professional squash players from Pakistan. We at Elitesquash were so lucky to host her for one and a half months over the summer to help her improve her squash. Little did we know about the big story around her life in sport in Pakistan.
How old are you and what do you do in your spare time?
I am 20 years old. Well I hardly get free time but when I do I make sure I spend it with family. I play video games with my brothers and friends. I go and participate in rally racing ( jeep rallies mostly ) which takes place in my area every once in a month. I love to draw and I read books. The most important thing that I do is to make sure I get to sleep.
When and why did you start playing squash?
After quitting professional cricket I wanted to start a new sport. I did not know much about squash. I was 17 or 18 when I ended my school and went over to join a swimming club. It was a bit more expensive so I could not join it. There was a free squash academy by the Pakistan airforce near the swimming club. I started going there regularly. I came across many talented players and I fell in love with this sport. You are seeing me here because of the love for this sport.
Have you ever played any other sports?
I have had the honor of becoming the first ever Pakistani and south asian to grab a silver junior olympic medal as a cyclist. I have played cricket professionally and that too being in boys team for a year. I have played different sports on and off. I am holder of 63 gold 24 silver and 5 bronze medals nationally and internationally.
Why did you choose to come to Bristol and train instead of somewhere else and for how long are you here?
I came to know about elitesquash through a friend who too is a squash player. I did go somewhere else before coming to Bristol where i did learn many things but the day I came here I actually got to know why is this place called the champion making factory. Of Course seeing world’s best playing here attracts you in anyway. I was just trying this place as I was trying all the other places to see where can I fit in. From the first day till now I have learned alot. This place feels like home now. It is so easy to talk to the coaches and people around. So easy to express yourself. I was here for a month. I am extremely sad that it is ending now but I will return soon.
How is squash in Pakistan and in your home city? Do you have a lot of players to hit with and are any of them woman? Do you have any only woman tournaments? Any woman train camps?
The only sport which is alive in Pakistan after cricket is squash. There are many female junior and senior players in Pakistan who play this game very skillfully. Pakistan once dominated squash because they knew how to master this sport. As everything evolved in the world with time and new techniques are introduced for doing many things , I guess that evolution process for squash did not hit Pakistan with time. This country is full of talent but proper guidance isnt there. I believe with proper guidance and infrastructure we will see them on the top back.
I do hit with many junior girls who are far more talented. There are different camps conducted by the federation for the top players.
Yes we do have only woman tournament every year in December where many PSA players participate from different countries. We will have one in September this year and then in November I believe.
How is it to be a woman playing squash in Pakistan?
It totally depends on the region you are from. In the bigger and main cities like Karachi, Islamabad and Lahore the trend of playing sport is alive. Coming to Peshawar where I live it is quite hard. In my squash academy I do not get the level of training which most of the boys get. Though recently I got the access to one of their physical fitness trainer. For everything there is a constant fight and you have to prove yourself before even you know how this sport is played. In the month of ramadan when no one has the energy to play during the day everyone tries to play at night but not many courts are available then. This situation is for both the genders here. In june and may I used to do physical training in a ground with my physical fitness coach. I used to be the only girl with 300 male athletes around me. This do give confidence in a way but it takes alot of courage to do that. There are no proper gyms for women in the city. Even if there are there no skilled trainers. There are no proper running tracks and unfortunately like other countries women can not run in track suits on the streets. Pakistan squash has alot to evolve especially in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
What are your future goals with squash? Do you want to play PSA?
I am already playing PSA. I just want to get better as much as I can. The goal is to reach to the top of course. But to be honest the main goal is to bring this sport back to Pakistan. If it doesn't happen the amazing talent which this country has will die. So yes the goal is to be at the top to bring it back.
3 funny fact about yourself?
I sleep with my mouth open. I hope I stop doing that.
I wear off my shoes while driving a car and I have no idea why I do this.
I am funny because whenever I talk to my friends they can not stop laughing and now I dont know how to explain it. You better ask my friends I guess.
UPDATE: Since visiting elitesquash in July Noorena has had documentaries made by the BBC and ESPN news about her journey in squash. And most recently she spoke at the United Nations Human Rights social forum in Geneva. Quotes from this below.
“ I strongly believe my participation will bring light to many problems we athletes of Pakistan face. I do not wish to highlight these issues to portray a negative image of my country but rather to be able to sit with amazing minds from around the globe and work towards the bringing back the lost glory of Pakistan. Furthermore participating in this event shows that my rights as an athlete are not only valued globally but are also valued in our country.’’
"Our society is socially and economically oppressed. Yet despite that, our athletes, both male and female, are able to showcase their skills internationally with the limited resources available to them and additionally they also serve as ambassadors of the nation. Both local and international investors should seek to invest in sports in Pakistan without discriminating between the type of sports. If we invest in sports, we invest in a future for our youth. That is how a nation wins."
An extract from Noorenas speak at the United Nations Human Rights Council social Forum