Covid meltdown – signing off 2020

Honestly, if you didn’t have at least two major meltdowns in 2020, I don’t think you had the full 2020 experience! That being said, I would also love to know your secret in keeping it together because I was definitely hanging on by a thread for the majority of this year.

I hit my third major Covid meltdown right before Thanksgiving, when the city of Philadelphia announced that it was going back into a full lockdown. This meant that all gyms and indoor recreation centers were closed until early January 2021. That was at least 5 weeks with all squash clubs and gyms falling under this ruling.

Hearing this news was devastating. I was currently training at The Racquet Club of Philadelphia and they had a great system of keeping everyone safe, with almost zero cases in the club! The players followed the rules by wearing a mask on court, in the gym, and around the club. The system worked. Yet the club still had to close due to the lockdown rules imposed by the city. It just goes to show that even when you do follow the rules, and do everything right, you can still get shut down. It was beyond frustrating as I was training there every single day and now it was over. Talk about a blow to the momentum.

Luckily, I only had one week left in Philly before heading to my childhood home, in Sea Cliff, Long Island, for Thanksgiving. A few days after that I was to fly to Egypt for three weeks. So, I only really needed to get through one week before heading home for Thanksgiving. Simple, right? Think again. Within the span of that week, I had to fly to San Francisco to coach for three days at Squash Zone (a club in Redwood City, California, that sponsors me), fly back to Philly, get a PCR Covid test within 96 hours of flying to Egypt, pack for Egypt, drive up with my sister, Sabrina, to New York for Thanksgiving, and somehow train on top of all of this. I went from zero to hundred in stress and anxiety in no time. Needless to say, many tears were shed that week. It was a total overload for me. In the end though, while totally exhausting, I accomplished it all. I didn’t train as much as I would have liked, but I did my best and I survived. Most of my meltdowns came from my own anxieties, but thankfully I have an amazing therapist who has taught me mindful coping strategies to help deal with my spiraling! I have to admit, getting a therapist in June was one of the best investments I made for myself this year. Yay for therapy!!

Once I got to Egypt, life was much easier. It’s the perfect place to just put your head down, block out the outside world and train hard. To be able to train in the gym, or on the squash court, without having to wear a mask was such a liberating experience. I was excited to be given the chance to compete one more time thanks to PSA and CIB staging a last minute tournament held at Black Ball Sporting Club in Cairo, Egypt. After my poor tournament results in October, I was eager to redeem myself and prove that I was capable of competing against the world’s best players. Unlike the summer, this time I had put in a good training block for at least six weeks. I was enjoying my squash again and I felt genuinely happy about life (minus my meltdown week).

My first match was against my training partner, and one of my best mates, Olivia Fiechter. We are both based in Philly and play weekly practice matches together. You can imagine how “thrilled” we were to fly all the way to Egypt just to play against one another in round one.

Personally, playing an “up and coming USA player” is always nervey for me, but once I won, I felt that I could let go and play freely. And that’s exactly what I did. As a result, I ended up playing my best squash all year and producing one my best wins to date by beating the current World number 1 and current World Champion, Nour El Sherbini, 11-9 in the fifth in the quarterfinals! Nour had beaten Sabrina in the previous round, so I couldn’t let her beat us both! In fact, all day before my match, I kept telling myself, “NOBODY BEATS TWO SOBHYS IN A ROW!” I needed to psych myself up. I was so excited after I won that I could actually say that in my post match interview! (You know how much I love a good interview! Haha). Unfortunately I wasn’t able to keep the momentum going as I lost out the next day, in the semis, to Hania El Hammamy. Regardless, I was so happy with my performance that week. Finally, I was playing at the level that I knew I was capable of after a year of very inconsistent performances. I realize that I didn’t win the tournament, but ending the year on such a positive note was exactly what I needed. It made up for the previous six months that were physically, mentally, and emotionally out of sorts for me.

After the tournament, I stayed in Egypt an extra week to train. My fitness coach is there and it was less complicated than lockdown life in the USA. Not only did I have a great week of training, I visited my extended family and bonded with my Dad who now lives full time in Cairo. After twenty something years of coming to Egypt, this trip was my best by far. You know what they say…. better late than never!

Finally I’m back in my apartment in Philly having just spent the holidays in Sea Cliff with my Mom, brother and sister. I realize how lucky I am to have been able to spend Christmas with my family, when so many people can’t. As far as what’s next on the PSA calendar? Who knows. I’ll just take it day by day and hope that I don’t have another meltdown anytime soon. One thing I do know is that I will be playing a lot of Padel.

Looking back on 2020, it’s definitely been my most challenging year to date (and this is coming from someone who has spent a year coming back from an Achilles rupture). Nevertheless, you learn the most from your setbacks, and this year has taught me a lot. It’s been my biggest year for growth, change and resiliency. I’m proud that I never gave up, even though I was knocked on my ass more times than I can count. I recognize that it’s been difficult in so many ways for so many people and for so many businesses. Having all of our USSquash elite athlete funding and support cut this summer until July 2021 has been a tough pill to swallow since this is a time as an athlete when we need the most support from the organization. However, tough times make tough people and I would like to say that I’ve come out the other side stronger than before.

I want to thank my sponsors who have stuck by me this year throughout the financial difficulties and challenges. Thank you to Head Squash, Teuton Shoes, Squash Zone, Beam, Ashaway strings, and Squash Source. To my team – Thierry, Moose, Gilly, Aidan, Samy, Micah, Dr. Z, Nyree, Mr. Wilson, University Club of Boston, and The Racquet Club of Philadelphia, I couldn’t have any of these successes without your continued and constant support. And lastly, to my family, my closest friends, and to my fans – thank you from the bottom of my heart for standing by me, supporting me, and believing in me through the highs and lows, through my the tears and my laughter. This has been such a challenging year for so many of us. I am truly grateful for your constant love and support.

I’m signing off for 2020. Catch you in the new year for more MANDS ON THE MOVE!!