Time Out meets Dubai-based former world No 2 Danielle Harte
Every time Danielle Harte hits a squash ball, she gets a buzz. It’s the same buzz she felt the first time she picked up a racquet when she was nine years old. The same buzz she felt when, as one of her country’s most promising young athletes, she joined the Australian Institute for Sport. The same buzz she felt while touring the world on the professional squash circuit on her way to becoming the number two-ranked female player in the world. The buzz of playing.
‘I just love this game,’ explains Danielle, 43, after coming off court for the third session of the day. ‘Nothing else beats being on court and just hitting the balls. It’s a total workout – not just muscles, either. It’s all about quick thinking and out-manoeuvring an opponent. At any one moment you’ve got a thousand things going on in your head.’ With more than 30 years’ experience of playing the game, Danielle should know. It is experience she is now putting to good use as a squash coach and personal trainer in Dubai.
Danielle and her family moved to the UAE from Australia three years ago. Business opportunities for her husband, Phil, himself a lifelong squash enthusiast and Danielle’s one-time coach, brought them here and they immediately threw themselves into the squash scene in the UAE. ‘It’s surprising how many places there are to play squash here. We have more than 700 courts in the UAE, and you don’t just find them in hotels either. So many health clubs and even residence buildings have great facilities,’ enthuses Danielle.
This being Dubai, it goes without saying that some of the local courts are found in spectacular surroundings. Danielle and Phil, for example, teach at the Burj Al Arab, Jumeirah Beach Hotel, Mina A’ Salam’s Quay Club and the Emirates Golf Club. Yet this doesn’t mean it’s an elitist sport exclusively for the very rich. Check out the box on the opposite page to find more details and prices of where to play in Dubai.
Sometimes portrayed as a sport for over-aggressive executives and corporate trophy-hunters, squash is actually one of the most physically demanding activities available. A panel of sports scientists and personal trainers working for Forbes magazine once labelled it the number one activity for attaining and retaining fitness. Success in the game is built around bursts of explosive energy, repeated stretched lunges and cardiovascular endurance levels similar to those demanded by rowing or swimming.
‘Oh yeah, this is a workout alright,’ says Danielle. It’s difficult to escape the feeling that she pushes herself as much as her students and fellow players every time she steps into the court. ‘Whatever is happening in the outside world – if you’re having a bad day at work, had a row with your partner, feeling under the weather – it doesn’t matter. When you’re on court you have to concentrate. That ball is a tiny little thing and you’ve got to keep an eye out and give it your all,’ says Danielle. ‘I’ve seen people after lessons and they’ve been so tired they’re unable to walk. But they come back again and again for sessions because they love it so much. Maybe sometimes working out in the gym and on weights can be a bit boring. Playing squash gives you that extra dimension, and there’s a competitive element that people love as well.’
Danielle is passing on the competitive element to a new generation of players. As well as teaching adults, from beginner to a thriving advanced level, herself and Phil have an active interest in youth development in the country. ‘We’ve got kids playing in the UAE that could definitely be world champions one day,’ says a confident Danielle.
The potential and the facilities are already in place but the sport needs more players and more competitions if it is to rival the popularity of golf and tennis. More players, more competitions and, if Danielle has her way, more buzz. Lessons with Danielle are Dhs275 per hour or Dhs2,500 for a block of 10. firstname.lastname@example.org (050 575 4182)