SPAt-light: Jessica Helal

Jessica Helal
Squash Pro at Equinox Sports Club
Orange County, CA

Screen Shot 2014-12-10 at 11.13.46 AMWhat Club do you work at and what is your title?
I am based out of the Equinox Sports Club in Irvine (Orange County) where I am the Squash Manager and Head Coach, and very recently my territory expanded to include the Equinox Sports Club in West LA. I oversee the squash program at both facilities and am helping grow the game on the West Coast. Recently I became the newest board member of SOCAL squash.

Where did you grow up?
Born and raised in Manchester England, quite a stretch from the blue skies and sands of Orange County. It wasn’t until I moved to America that I realized there are colors other than gray.

Whats your favorite part about living in Southern California?
Its December, its sixty-four degrees and not a cloud in the sky. California keeps you young. Living such an active lifestyle, whether it is on the beach, on the squash court, running the canyons or snowboarding in the mountains, California allows you to do it all.

Describe the squash scene there, for juniors and adults.
Four years ago I asked a member if he had ever played squash and his reply was, “What—played a vegetable?” Now we have over 200 regular squash players at the Equinox Sports Club in Irvine alone, and there are other strong clubs in Santa Barbara, San Diego and LA. We have a great core of European members who are happy to have found a thriving squash scene and who are keen to bring in new players. Perhaps that could be our next event—Europe vs USA!

One of our goals is to increase the number of junior players, but right now I am happy to see positive momentum with an overall increase in players, enjoying a new sport in California.

Do you still compete?
I do not. I prefer to focus on coaching, passing on knowledge and love for the game that my dad gave to me. Now if you get me on a court with my sister, Amina Helal, that would be another answer!

I never really had the competitive edge and desire to win. I much preferred to talk my opponent off the court when I used to play! It is also difficult to perfect your own game when you are dedicated to coaching others on their game all day.

What did you think of the U.S. Open? Did people on the West Coast follow it?
California certainly did follow the U.S. Open. It was my first year attending, and what a spectacular tournament—well run, professionally organized and a great show. We are lucky to have US Squash as our governing body; they have a team of passionate, business-minded people who are dedicated to positioning the sport to achieve success within the U.S. We need our pros and club coaches to deliver the message and connect with every player out there. Then we will see this game grow and thrive because we all know how addictive squash is, and how it can open doors and build lifelong friendships.

Sports are a big part of culture in the United States. Participation builds character and squash proves that with every match. How you perform on the court reflects your mental and physical state. Nicol David is a great spokesperson for the sport and summed it up perfectly: “Its all about taking control and using the space as well as you can, like physical chess.”