As you approach the National Squash Center building from the nearby downtown Manhattan subway stop on this cool but sunny Saturday afternoon, you see that the bicycle racks near the front entrance are near to full. Great, you think to yourself, this means there are lots of people inside. Pretty normal, but you still find it a welcome surprise after six months as a member at the club, as it makes for a nice ending to a day in the City. A friend of yours is parking his shiny new motorbike across the street. "Hey man, what's up?" you say. He saunters over with a smile on his face. "I'm good, thanks. Nice evening for squash huh?" "Yip" is your only reply. It's all you really need to say to your friend; he get's it. You walk into the club together.
As you enter, you both glance over at the club ladder on the wall. It is positioned just beyond the front door entrance where it is impossible not to see. The ladder itself consists of a few vertical rows of long strips of varnished wood with slots carved out every inch for the name card of a member. There is a women's ladder for both singles and doubles, a junior ladder, and a men's singles and doubles ladder. Your personalized name card is there, down at the bottom of the first column of the singles ladder, next to the big silver number 27. "Oh that sucks" you say out loud, you cannot even stop yourself, your friend laughs because he knows exactly the reason for your little outburst. Your arch rival's name is two above yours for the first time in months. Need to train harder, you think to yourself. Your eyes move up to the top of the first column and you marvel at the names of many of the best American professional squash players who take up all the top spots on both of the adult ladders.
Squash has gone from strength to strength in North America and team USA is hoping to do well at the 2020 Olympics. Today the staff at the front desk are wearing black polo shirts with the club’s name on the chest pocket. "Hi guys, your names are on the list, enjoy the round robin." How friendly. The doors to the men's and women's changing rooms are immediately to the left after the desk and across the hallway on the right are a few US Squash offices. There is nobody in the offices today, not because it is Saturday, but because you recall they are all at a tournament upstate. The prior weekend US Squash hosted a Junior Gold tournament at the club. Thank goodness they were done by 4pm and you could still get in your regular weekend games. You remember overhearing someone say how fortunate they were to have fourteen singles courts available at one facility and how different it was to the past when they ran those tournaments out of five different New York City clubs.
Fortunately for the members at the club, the whole facility is rarely used in its entirety by a tournament, owing to the large number of courts at the complex. Only large junior tournaments can take out that many courts. Any of the New York Squash tournaments only ever use six or eight courts at a time and members have ample opportunity to play over the weekend on the remaining courts. As you enter the changing room you see a few people gathered around the big screen on the wall. You recognize many of them as round robin participants you have played before. You are going to get some good competition today. They are watching the end of a squash match being broadcast live by SquashTV onto all the TV's in the club. After seeing a few incredible rallies the small group is clearly inspired and totally psyched to get out there and play. Each founding member has a locker allocated to them with their name in brass at the top of it. A nice touch for the three hundred or so men and women who joined the club when it first opened. You wished that you had been a member from the start.
Once dressed and ready you swing by the pro shop to pick up a new grip for your favorite racquet. There are two staff members at hand to assist, one is restringing a member's racquet on a large waist high machine that looks like something that should be used exclusively in a factory shop. How it works is a mystery to you, although it is mesmerizing watching someone string a racquet. "How are you doing today?" is the friendly salutation. You ask that the grip just be put on your tab along with the modest round robin fee. "No problem" the young woman says with a smile. You grin back at her and run off to catch the start of the round robin on time. As you walk down the hall toward the courts arena a bunch of kids from a local high school is just leaving. Their coach is walking behind them trying to coral them to the exit. They have a big game this week in the local high school league. The kids look pretty relaxed and are teasing each other incessantly. They often do after squash and it makes them seem more grown up than most students their age. As you enter the courts arena you are met with the cries of a medium sized crowd from the far side of the large octagonal shaped room. There are at least eight courts of various colors (each court is a different shade) in view from the entrance to the arena. And there are more courts out of view.
A college match is currently being played on the show court, an all glass court situated center on the opposite side of the hall. There are a few steps all the way around the court to facilitate viewing. The bleachers normally go up in the center of the arena for the pro tournaments. These metal stands are in storage today though. The stepped area around the courts is packed, there must be three hundred spectators at least, so much so that you can hardly see who is on court. You look up at the large Madison Square Garden-like scoreboard hanging from the ceiling in the middle of the cavernous room and see that is a home derby match. Columbia University is playing New York University. The NYU student appears to be winning the match, you did hear they recruited some superstars this year. You cannot linger though, the round robin has just started and there are already twenty five squash players occupying six courts on the other side of the hall. You know most of them, you do battle against each other every weekend. But this is not really a group of weekend warriors, these are squash players and most of them are down at the courts every day. Squash is like that. It gets under your skin and becomes a lifestyle. It is so much more than exercise. After two hours of intense squash games against a wide variety of opponents you sit down on the floor to stretch. Each of you goes through his post play warm down routine. This is a more disciplined bunch than shows up on a Wednesday night. Most of those participants would already be at the bar upstairs at this point in proceedings. You remember you have no plans until 9pm that night and have a few hours to kill. After twenty minutes of stretching over what seems to be one long continuous series of jokes made mostly by you, the group disperses to hit the showers and then go for their customary drink afterward. This part you love almost as much as the squash, you are social person and this is what appealed to you about the game in the first place. A great workout combined with the opportunity to get to know people. Yeah the squash is great, but so is everything that goes along with it. Back in the change room the rain head showers have great water pressure and there is plenty of space. They are an absolute pleasure relative to showers at other clubs you have been in. A scream pierces the relative quiet of flowing water. Someone just jumped into the ice bath that is something normally reserved for the professionals. They have one of these in both the womens' and mens' changing rooms. After hard matches you’ve noticed that the serious players often hop from the ice bath into a hot shower and back into the ice bath as this speeds up the physical recovery process. You are not that brave today, but will settle for a quick steam before heading to the bar. You remember anyway that you have a personal training session and then a sports massage booked upstairs for tomorrow. The gym on the second floor of the facility above the shops and offices is truly impressive. It has world class trainers and all the machines and equipment you need to train top level athletes. There are VO2 Max ergometers for measuring oxygen efficiency, a weightlifting pit for doing the snatch or clean and jerk Olympic lifts. There is even an Alter-G treadmill for those with lower body injuries. The Alter-G has an airbag that inflates and lifts you off your feet so that you can get full range of motion whilst walking or running but without the pressure. The rehab set up is incredible and worthy of an Olympic training program, in any sport. No wonder the world’s top squash pros like training here when they are in town. And it would not be the same if you had to go elsewhere for your regular off court training and therapy. You head upstairs. The bar is full of men and women of all ages. They must be gym members mostly; you recognize one or two people, this is normal for a Saturday though. The TV's on the walls around the bar are showing a recent pro doubles match. You are always amazed when you see the top guys play this game. The pace of it is ferocious and it is an incredibly appealing spectator sport, even some of the non-squash gym crew are watching the match. Most of the best pro doubles players in the world train and play at your club, given the one of kind all glass doubles court permanently housed at the club. You have not ventured onto one of the doubles courts yet and you make a mental note to do so. Just then the club's head pro walks in and intercepts you on your way over to the bar counter. He hands you a DVD of the singles league match you played Wednesday night which he has apparently analyzed and prepared a voice over with some constructive criticism. Just part of the all round service offered at the club. You say thank you and shake his hand. He leaves quietly and you regret not asking him if he has time for a few hardball doubles lessons. No problem. You will see him tomorrow anyway, he is there every day as far as you can tell. Is it not great that every one of the courts at the club has permanent cameras hooked up that allow you to record any training session or match which you choose to keep? All you need to do is let the front desk know to flip the switch and then pick up the DVD after your session. This is a nice state of the art feature which you have not seen in any other club you’ve ever played at. The high school and college coaches swear by it as an invaluable aid in their coaching. Your squash crew is at the bar now and some of them have already had two or three drinks by this point. Some kind of athletes. They do it often though and are all in shape. I guess regular squash burns all the calories you could reasonably eat or drink. There is a reason Forbes magazine ranked squash as the number one sport in the world for getting fit and staying fit. As you approach, the bar tender has already placed a tall glass of water along with your regular drink on the counter. “Good to see you again”. You thank him and instead of immediately joining your friends in conversation you step out onto the rooftop deck overlooking the city. The breeze has dropped and the cool evening air feels great on your skin. You catch yourself staring into the distance. You just stand there, motionless for a while, and wonder how the heck you lived here without enjoying all the creature comforts of a club like this. You get the feeling that it's going to be a good night. It's already been one fine day.