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22 April 2021 | in FISU Athletes

South African university squash silver medalist set for comeback

Alexandra Pienaar (RSA)- Photo courtesy of USSAFor any athletes, coming back from an injury can take much time and patience—especially for FISU World University Squash Championship silver medalist, Alexa Pienaar. South Africa’s Pienaar is looking forward to a much-anticipated comeback to the squash courts as she works on her return from injury.

 

“To me, lockdown posed great challenges in terms of motivation to keep training and staying fit, as the motivation to perform well at tournaments was pretty much eradicated,” she explained. “I also got hurt quite badly (not squash related), which has prolonged this and has significantly impacted my game as I am only just starting to train again. So, all-in-all, it has been a tough ride, but I am determined to come back and build on my past achievements,” she continued.

 

“At the moment, due to my injury, it is difficult for me to gauge when I will be able to compete at the level that I competed before, but I hope to be back on top form for IPTs in July. However, this all depends on how well and fast I recover,” Pienaar went on to add.

 

The 26-year-old grabbed silver at the FISU World University Squash Championships 2018 in Birmingham, England where she produced one of the country’s best performances by reaching the final. Having participated in the previous FISU World University Squash Championship in Malaysia two years prior, Pienaar used her experience to overcome top seed Grace Gear from England in the earlier round of the tournament. She then had to face Lily Taylor from Great Britain in the finals. Pienaar went down straight sets to Taylor but acknowledged that it had been a good learning curve for the future.

 

Speaking on her lessons in her career so far, Pienaar talks about her learning from participating in the sport she loves.

 

“I think my biggest lesson so far is that you do not only learn from your losses but from your wins too. It is easy to say that a loss is a learning curve but what we do with our wins and how do we navigate ourselves and our futures after overcoming a large obstacle,” she expressed. I think after reaching the finals at the FISU World University Championships in Birmingham for 2018 (where I ended 2nd) I felt a little lost—but by realising that my journey is not over and that there is still more that I want to achieve, a renewed energy and ‘hunger’ grew inside of me which, to me, was a very big learning curve,” she said.

 

Pienaar who started her squash journey in the Western Cape at the age of nine also explained how she got involved with the sport to begin with.

 

“I joined my friend for a school squash session and I loved it, I was not too bad at it. I was encouraged to try out for the school team and, later that year, for the provincial team. I played my first IPT that same year but, as I was still quite young, lost almost all my matches. This, however, fueled my will to get better and one thing lead to another,” she remembered fondly.

 

In 2019 Pienaar was named University of Johannesburg’s (UJ) Student-Athlete of the Year with an average of 77.90% for her Masters in Fine Arts, while in the same year she won the University Sport South Africa (USSA) individual squash title for the third straight year and received her highest world ranking which was 97. It is easy to see why she is recognised for her sporting excellence and academic achievements due to her determined mindset.

 

“In my experience, the USSA team and management provide great encouragement and support to its players. The opportunities provided by USSA management, such as travelling to large international events, helps teams and individuals grow in terms of their abilities as well as their beliefs,” explained the three-time USSA champ.

 

“For me personally, the possibility that anything is possible grew more and more and festered a sense that we (South African squash players) are capable of much more in the international squash scene”.

 

Based on her own experience, Pienaar would also like to give some encouragement to squash players to continue playing from her own experience with the sport.

 

“I think one of the main reasons why young players do not continue to play squash is that they do not believe that it has much to offer. For me, however, it has provided me with the opportunity to study at UJ, travel to Malaysia (2016) and Birmingham (2018), amongst other places, and improved my quality of life and mental health –especially pertinent during lockdown when we did not have these things (which I may have taken for granted),” she mentioned. “You also meet new people and build lifelog relationships, something that does not always get the credit it deserves, in my opinion,” she explained.

 

Having mentioned 10-time world number one Nicole David as her squash inspiration, the best is yet to come from Pienaar’s budding career.

 

“My dream has always been to represent the South African ladies team at the World Championships. After being out for so long (it is almost 7 months now), I am even more determined with a renewed desire to work for and reach my goals in the (hopefully near) future,” she concluded.