The aspirations of the petite, 23-year-old national and regional squash champion, Mary Fung-A-Fat, was to simply live a childhood dream of ‘going pro.’
On September 18, Mary participated in her debut match as a full-time pro at the 2017 Nash Cup tournament in London, Ontario, Canada where she gave a solid account of herself despite dropping her match against her English counterpart.
In a recent interview with Stabroek Sport, Fung-a-Fat spoke about her illustrious career which began when she was introduced to the sport at the age of seven after being prompted to “give it a try” by her mother during a visit to the Georgetown Club.
Mary had been there to watch her brother participate in a squash lesson with ‘The Legend’ as she calls him, Coach Carl Ince.
She overcame her initial reluctance and, as her tale goes, she fell in love with the sport from thereon and ‘never came off the court’ ever since.
Fung-a-Fat’s passion and love grew over time and, in 2006, at the tender age of 11, she competed in her first Caribbean Area Squash Association (CASA) junior tournament in Jamaica.
She made it all the way to the final and was involved in an intense battle with fellow Guyanese, Victoria Arjoon and managed to steal the title in five riveting sets. Her accomplishment solidified her passion for the sport and she went on to capture gold at every junior level to cement her reputation as one of the junior greats of Caribbean squash.
Ironically, Fung-a-Fat ended her junior career at the same place it began, six years later in 2012, against yet another countrywoman, Ashley DeGroot.
“I started in Jamaica with a title and ended in Jamaica with a title. It was a magical ending to my junior CASA career,” the champ recounted.
At that moment, the former Marian Academy Student seemed lost in the nostalgia, wearing a beaming smile.
She added: “Even as I think about it now and I still feel jittery… on the night of the presentation at the closing ceremony, I made a speech that had everyone in tears including myself. I said that my junior CASA career had been a fairytale, with squash as my Prince Charming and Coach Carl Ince my Fairy Godfather.”
Fast-forwarding to her post junior days, Fung-a-Fat found herself in the City of Brotherly Love, Philly, (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) United States, beginning her college stint at Drexel University where she managed to win a sport scholarship after impressing coach, John White.
Majoring in Health Science.
Fung-a-Fat’s effervescent demeanor infected the University’s squash team under her captaincy (2015-2017). During her four years at Drexel, the Women’s Varsity team moved from 19 to 10 in the US squash college rankings. It was a step up from the friendly atmosphere of the CASA tournaments, she admits, while having to cope with the challenge of juggling sports and academics, to make the dream a reality.
Here is how she recounts that four-year experience: “I learnt so much there, like how to balance academics and athletics, adjust to a different country and culture, and deal with longer, more aggressive rallies – those girls meant business. It was different from my Caribbean squash.”
The struggles with the step-up have conditioned her mentally for the dream of becoming a professional squash player after graduation.
Further down the line, she has already signed up for a few tournaments and intends to continue training with her former college coach, John White.
The road hasn’t been easy; for the first time in her life she looks forward to focusing 100 percent on training and competing on the professional circuit and is determined to start at the bottom in a few minor tournaments in her quest for success.
So far, one local company, which would like to remain anonymous, has come on board to support her with one-fifth of her budget.
During the last three months she has been in Guyana training for the upcoming tournaments, during which she helped to coach the juniors at the Junior CASA Championships held in Guyana. She also copped a bronze at the recent national and senior CASA, the latter in St. Vincent.
Before that, she won the under 13, 15, 17 and U19 Caribbean championships in 2006 (Jamaica), 2008 (Cayman), 2010 (Barbados) and 2012 (Jamaica), respectively.
Fung-a-Fat is proud to showcase the Caribbean and fly the Guyana flag high on the world squash scene as she embarks on her dream of becoming a professional squash player.