Mark Chaloner was once ranked No. 7 in the world at squash and two decades on, although now semi-retired from competition, the Cayman national coach and head coach at the South Sound Squash Club is still immersed in the sport he loves.
He played in a “legends” tournament in Bermuda last week and went on to Boston, Massachusetts, to help raise funds for “SquashBusters,” a charity that gives underprivileged kids the chance to use squash to help them progress in life and potentially gain college degrees.
It’s an extremely successful charity that has run for 18 years and is beneficial to kids from very poor and harsh backgrounds, he said.
Chaloner recently organized the Cayman National Championships – which he won – and from the results he has a good idea of who to pick for Cayman in this summer’s Senior Caribbean Area Squash Association Championships, which Cayman is hosting on Aug. 15-23. Chaloner will be a player-coach as well as an organizer. Just prior to that, he will be taking a group of 17 youngsters to Barbados to play in the Junior CASA competition, which he said is “a fantastic event and a great target for the Cayman kids to aim for.”
There is an after-school program which started on Monday and runs for 10 weeks and provides 15 hours of squash coaching each week for all standards of junior players.
There is also an inter-schools competition for the younger year groups at the end of May.
Chaloner is also taking Julian Jervis to the Youth Commonwealth Games in September as Cayman’s only squash representative.
Somehow Chaloner also finds the time and energy to play hardball doubles, a high-paced squash game that involves working with a partner moving, anticipating and communicating as one.
It also has a risky edge as the ball is much harder than a standard squash ball. The balls whizz around much faster and behave differently too as they skid along the walls, so the different angles that can be played and exploited make for a very creative game.
He has even managed to earn to a world ranking of No. 5, despite not having a doubles court to practice on, as the dimensions are completely different to a regular squash court.
He also enjoys a round of golf whenever the chance arises. “It’s challenging and hooks you in to always try to be better when one good shot makes you think you can repeat it on demand.”
His sporting highlights include winning the World Team Championships for England in 1995, with Chaloner winning the deciding match and achieving the Commonwealth Games gold medal in the men’s doubles at the 1998 Games with Paul Johnson.
Chaloner was also the England captain and claimed the European Team Championship during this time.
Now his only sporting ambitions are to be able to play all sports with son Hugo, 13 months, as he grows up.
The 42-year-old Englishman from Lincolnshire started swimming aged 6 and was competitive at that, then took part in some biathlons (running and swimming) for a couple of years before being introduced to squash which completely took over from swimming. At college he excelled at cross country running, rugby and field hockey.
His early sporting heroes were squash legends Jonah Barrington and Jahangir Khan, as well as Michael Jordan.
Now there are younger champs he admires, such as golfer Jordan Spieth for winning the Masters at 21 last month. “To handle the pressure on him at such a young age is incredible,” he said.
Chaloner thinks the Cayman sporting scene is “really vibrant” because there are so many options. “It’s great to see more and more people choosing a healthy option.”
He would like to see a state-of-the-art national training center that would cover many sports with facilities to train, rehabilitate and recover athletes, as well as providing various arenas enabling the general public to participate in a wide range and to spectate during elite competitions.
Cayman’s attractiveness for sports tourism is great, he feels, but the high cost of accommodation and transport issues for visitors are drawbacks.
“An ideal situation would be to have a purpose-built accommodation block attached to a training facility that could be provided at low cost compared to hotels for traveling teams who wish to visit for whatever reason,” Chaloner said.
There are plenty of talented squash players coming through. Who does Chaloner tip to become a top pro?
“This is a good question and a difficult one to answer as many talented players are putting a lot of effort into getting their standard to a high enough level to help them gain entry into a U.S. university, after which they may or may not become professional players.
“Their university degrees will still prove to be useful to fall back on should they not make it as professional squash players on the circuit.”
He added that Egypt is producing some “incredible players right now and they have a very attacking style of play,”
He said that the U.S. is also nurturing some good players but no one yet of the caliber of the top Egyptians.
Chaloner is helping Cayman’s sports tourism income in his own modest way. He has a growing number of squash tourists coming down specifically for high-quality coaching whilst vacationing.
“I have had players from Chile, the U.S., Canada, U.K., as well as university teams from the U.S., including Harvard and Brown in January, along with George Washington University, Rochester, Dartmouth previously.
“Potentially Drexel are looking to visit this coming year. Each university generally brings down their men’s and women’s teams which consist of 15 players per team, so it’s a great thing for Cayman.”
Mark Chaloner’s website is www.squashvacations.com.