By Josh O’Brien
Graeme Schnell, 25, bounces the black squash ball off the front wall of a University of Calgary squash court with perfect precision and force. Academically, he is a fourth-year kinesiology student who intends on going to medical school once he finishes his degree. On the court, he is a five-time champion of the Black Knight Canadian University and College Championship Men’s Open, the top Canadian university squash championship. Schnell’s 2013 title is one of many — he claimed victories in the 2008, 2009, 2011 and 2012 editions of the event. With his fifth victory, Schnell passed the University of Western’s Rob Nigro, who last won in 2005, for the most titles in the history of the Canadian University and College Championships. He is one of the top-ranked squash players in Canada and plans to play professionally this year.
“I started playing squash when I was 10 years old and ever since then I haven’t taken any breaks,” said Schnell. “While most players take a break right out of juniors because they feel burned out, my best results have come from the training I received there. Since then, I have won most of my tournaments. I feel I have progressed the most from age 18 to now.”
Schnell has seen what it takes to be a top-level squash player.
“I’m addicted to these four walls,” said Schnell.
“It is great exercise and it keeps me focused on something other than my studies in kinesiology,” Schnell continued. “I found that squash is always developing new techniques, spins, coaching philosophies. I have never once felt that this sport is becoming stagnant. It is always evolving and growing, and the higher up you get the tougher it is.”
The squash world was rocked in September when the International Olympic Committee voted for the re-admittance of wrestling into the 2020 Olympic Games, a disappointing decision for squash enthusiasts who hope to see the sport in the Olympics one day. The vote, in which wrestling won with 49 votes to softball-baseball’s 24 and squash’s 22, was the outcome of almost three years of debate that was supposed to elect a new sport to the Olympics. Schnell felt that the squash world had done a lot to secure a place in the Olympic games.
“To prepare for 2020 we had come a long way,” said Schnell, referencing several of the changes made to professional squash in hopes of being admitted into the Olympics. “The glass court system, 360 degree spectator angles, video review and a revamped scoring system made it much more exciting for the crowd.”
Ultimately the IOC decided to re-admit wrestling, reversing their controversial decision to remove it earlier in 2013.
“I felt we had a very good chance at the 2020 Olympics until we had to face wrestling,” said Schnell. “It’s the oldest Olympic sport. They have a history and heritage, and taking them out made it virtually impossible for any other sport to make it in.”
Canada hasn’t produced a top-10 world-ranked player since Jonathan Power was ranked number one in 2006. Schnell’s brother Andrew is regarded as one of Canada’s next best chances to break into the top-10 world rankings. Andrew is currently ranked at number 70 in the world at the age of 21.
“Right now the most dominant countries in squash are Egypt and England,” said Schnell. “We don’t have the right environment to produce a world champion. In Egypt they get scouted when they are very young, get a racquet put in their hands and get to go on court and train with world champions.”
Schnell believes that the U of C squash courts are some of the best in Canada. “This is a world-class facility, and we can develop junior players here and use it as a hub for the top players in Canada,” said Schnell. “These courts are beautiful and very well maintained. The viewing areas are amazing.”
Schnell has one more course left in his degree and plans on playing in tournaments across Canada and the United States in the coming months.