It never occurred to Pat Hodgson that someone like Sarfaraz Ahmed would consider coming to Nelson.
Hodgson, the president of the Nelson Squash Club, was mulling his options during the summer after manager Paul Lamoureux decided to step down from running the club. The pair thought they might just hire someone in town for the ski season since the club primarily operates during the winter months.
Instead, they decided to post the job on a few squash websites. They were shocked by who applied.
“We got flooded with applicants with far more qualifications than we ever thought was possible,” said Hodgson, who found during the interview process that the contract offered by the club was in some cases more than what players were making in major cities.
Ahmed, the current provincial champion after he won the BC Closed Championship in March, ended up being Lamoureux’s unlikely replacement. The 26-year-old moved from Vancouver last week after deciding to take a chance on Nelson.
“One guy I talked to said this was God’s country,” said Ahmed. “No one had anything negative to say. So I was like, I have to take a risk and see what happens. I’ve been here a week and it feels pretty good.”
Club members met Ahmed for the first time Wednesday. He played several rounds with members before taking on former provincial No. 1 Viktor Bergman in an exhibition match in front of a delighted crowd. Hodgson said the pair were the best two players the club has had on the courts in its 30-plus years of operation.
Getting people excited about squash will be Ahmed’s primary job. He’ll run the club, organize tournaments and start a junior program.
“We just want to shed some light on what real, professional squash can look like,” he said. “The kids will have a better view of what the game can really look like.”
Ahmed’s arrival is the latest watershed moment for the club, which returned to operations in January after a 10-month renovation. Hodgson said the only thing the club was lacking was someone who could properly train athletes in the game.
“One of the things that we’ve come to realize over the last few years is that we’ve done a reasonably good job of being able to draw new people into the club to give it a try, but we couldn’t take them anywhere,” said Hodgson.
“We couldn’t take that raw beginner player and then turn them into an intermediate player or an advanced player because nobody had the time to do it or the skills to teach them. So now we have that person and they’re focused on doing it. That’s really why he’s here.”
Ahmed was born in Kenya and picked up the game from his father at a young age before moving to Toronto when he was 11 and later to Vancouver at 18.
He has a lifelong love for the game, which he’s been teaching for eight years now.
“I just love the speed of it,” he said. “There’s no real breaks. Like in tennis, you hit the net [and] water’s out, you take a break. [In squash] you’re closed off in these four walls and it just keeps going.”
Hodgson gets giddy thinking about what Ahmed’s arrival will mean for the club. Where once squash players had to duck through a hole in the wall to get into the old courts, now they have a sparkling space of their own with a professional player to teach the game.
“It’s going to take our club in so many directions that we never could have even imagined,” said Hodgson. “This match tonight would have been a pipe dream a year ago. Not even within the realm of consideration, and here they are right now.”