Beautiful people into squash

By Cheche Moral
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines ? Tweetie De Leon-Gonzalez?s friends are hooked on this little-known racket sport.

The supermodel and wellness advocate signed up some of her model-friends to take up the little-known?at least compared to badminton?racket sport popularized by the Brits.

De Leon also helped organized the 2nd Celebrity Squash Cup held at the Manila Polo Club on April 18.

Her friends said yes?at first only for the love of her. But they are quickly discovering that squash is, in fact, quite fun and a great workout.

There?s Angel Jacob, an avid swimmer and biker who also does Pilates, and has for sometime been telling Gonzalez of her desire to learn the game.

There?s Grace Molina, a gym buff who?s also into flag football, and Phoemela Baranda, who, apart from her twice-weekly gym workout, is also into Hatha yoga.

?I?ve tried badminton but I didn?t like it,? says Jacob, who began playing squash only 1? months ago. ?But I?m really excited with squash! This is a game I like to pursue ?. I like to maximize my morning workout so I swim and play squash twice a week.?

Molina and Baranda have been Jacob?s training buddies for the upcoming tournament, which will also see on court the likes of actor-athlete Richard Gomez, TV sports personality Quinito Henson, business mogul and sportsman Ernie Lopez, Sen. Bong Revilla, Rep. Gilbert Remulla, Rep. Roman Romulo, celebrity doctors Vicki Belo and Hayden Kho, and fashion designer Patrice Ramos Diaz, a longtime squash player.

?I sweat better,? says Molina, who has taken up tennis and badminton. ?I move a lot even if it?s not as big a court as tennis. It?s just those four walls,? she adds, describing the small enclosure of a squash court.

?It?s high-intensity so super pawis!? echoes Baranda. The newest in the group who never caught the badminton bug, ?I was more into adventure sports like car racing since I like speed,? she says.

First racket sport

Gonzalez herself took up squash only three years ago, when everyone else was into badminton. It was to be her first racket sport; she was into volleyball, scuba diving, biking, yoga and running. Squash would become her favorite, so much so that last year, as new board member of the Squash Rackets Association of the Philippines (SRAP), she organized the 1st Celebrity Squash Cup at the Makati Sports Club.

The Cup is in support of SRAP?s efforts to increase awareness of the sport and enjoin more benefactors, says Gonzalez. At the moment, there are very few squash courts in the country, and only in exclusive sports clubs. Even some of her friends only get to play in the courts as her guests.

?That?s why we moved the venue this year so the other clubs also become aware of what we?re doing,? she says.

Squash equipment?racket, ball?are available in local sports shops. No fancy outfit necessary: a pair of good tennis or badminton shoes will do. It?s also prudent to use protective eyewear.

Since becoming a squash advocate, Gonzalez?s friends have been coming up to her, expressing their interest in the game. Some of them are badminton, um, turncoats. Their feedback: ?They say squash players are very good badminton players because no matter how low [the shuttlecock gets], they?re able to scoop it up.?

In the Philippines, there are more ?serious? male squash players, Gonzalez says, though the number of women playing has increased since last year.

The No. 1 national junior player is, in fact, a female. This summer, SRAP will hold squash clinics for kids at the Makati Sports Club (visit www.srap.net.ph).

Like Baranda, who still gets frustrated learning footwork and timing, Gonzalez knew next to nothing when she signed up with an instructor. ?And I wasn?t at my fittest. There was just my willingness to learn.? She lost post-baby pounds all right, but that was just a plus.

?A lot of women don?t stick to a certain activity because they get into it for the wrong reasons,? she says. ?Focus should be on your health [not vanity]. Learn to execute the right movements and burn your calories effectively. Losing weight is the bonus.? Apart from being an excellent cardio workout, squash improves strength and agility.

For a model and TV personality like herself, it?s imperative that she keeps fit, says Baranda. ?But it?s not just for that. It?s for your health. You must find a good way to de-stress ?. I did yoga because I wanted to have a flexible body.?

Baranda has a tip for novices like her: ?Start it with friends. That?s what we do: We challenge each other.?

The 2nd Celebrity Squash Cup is supported by Nestlé, Olay, Nike, Gillette, Crocs, Supply Oilfield Services, Folded & Hung, C2 Collezione, Speedo New Balance, Randy Ortiz, Karakal and Jewelmer.

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