Now a couple of decades into taking to the court against female competitors from across the province and around the globe, Connie Sacchetto has clearly immersed herself into the sisterhood of squash.
That seems only fitting, given the spark that would light the competitive fire that burns within for a sport that she dreams of playing into her eighties.
“My sister (Tamara) had played a bit of squash,” said Sacchetto, comfortably into her adulthood by then. “She invited me out to play a few times, but because she was older and had played for a bit, she always beat me - every single game. I started getting frustrated with that.”
“But we would have the best time, not really knowing the rules, just chasing this little black ball around the court and having the time of our lives. Still, I thought that I would really like to beat her some day.”
Sacchetto (then Connie Chevrette) had thrown herself into the performing arts at Sudbury Secondary School a decade or so earlier, transitioning from a background in dance in her youth - but it wasn’t as though the taste of athletics were foreign to her. Baseball was the sport of choice for her parents in Hanmer and in her pre-teens, Connie would follow the family footsteps.
“It was cool: they gave me a uniform, I was part of a team, doing what my mom and dad were doing,” she said, all while admitting that she wasn’t very good. And while she may have started in squash the very same way, things were about to change, thanks to a workplace acquaintance.
“A couple of (squash) lessons with Brian Clarke and I started beating my sister,” she said. “It was incredible, just to learn that if you hold the racquet a certain way or you just step into the ball a certain way, you could suddenly execute these shots.”
Sacchetto was smitten with squash.
“We would go to the old YMCA at lunch, doing lessons with other people, and it just took off from there,” she said. “You get addicted, obviously.”
It wasn’t long before Sacchetto had to search outside of sibling rivalries to find competition. “I really wanted to test my skills against people other than my sister and some locals,” she recalled, as she reminisced of her start with tournament play in North Bay.
“I remember that event so vividly. It was humbling. It opened my eyes to a whole new idea of squash. There were B players and A players and juniors, and I marvelled at these people who were so fit and could track down a ball anywhere on the court. That really sparked my interest.”
The sport also played well into a lifestyle Sacchetto has always maintained.
“I think for me, when it comes to my squash game, it’s all about fitness,” she admitted. “I try to be fit before I play squash. You can’t play squash to get fit; you have to be fit to play squash. As a squash player who enjoys breaking down their game, finding problems with my game, I am always trying to fix it - but I could always rely on my fitness.”
Where some might have focused on one particular source of conditioning, Sacchetto was far more multifaceted in her approach. “I would join fitness classes, a lot of those,” she said. “My parents moved to the Island (Manitoulin) and I would go jogging. Back home, I would ride a bike. I tried to break it up, doing things that I enjoyed, but there wasn’t anything specific.”
“I know there will always be fitness in my life, but it will always change. The only constant thing has been squash.”
That consistency would come in handy as Sacchetto worked her way upwards, climbing the various rungs of the ever-popular squash ladders. “I reached the A level, which I never thought I would do in my wildest dreams,” she said. “That accomplishment alone was incredible.”
Still, there are constraints when one picks up a sport at age 27. Even if development comes quickly (Sacchetto was a third place finisher in nationals in the A Division), time is not on your side.
“Because of my age, I knew that I wasn’t going to be an Open player,” said the mother of one (son Jonah), noting that at the upper level of the sport, one can ascend from A to Open and on to the pro ranks.
“You kind of know your limitations and I’m fine with that. You peak and that’s OK. That’s when I thought I was ready for masters, ready to play people my own age, all kind of going through the same things.”
In fact, if her sister had provided the initial motivation, it would be athletes quite a bit older that reinforced the long-term commitment to squash that Sacchetto now embodies. “I’ve been to many a masters tournament and the fact that there are still women competing at the age of eighty is what inspires me to be OK with where I am,” said this accomplished athlete who has yet to celebrate her 50th birthday.
“I want to be able to play into my late years. Watching some of these players do it makes me believe that I can. It might not be the fastest game in the world or the most creative, but they’re still enjoying the game at that age.”
An avid traveller, Sacchetto has often combined both of her primary interests in search of competition. “That’s partly why I travel to out of country events,” she explained. “In those events, there are 20 forty year olds in my division, which is the most wonderful thing you could ever imagine.”
“I would probably go anywhere to play, as long as they have my division.”
And to play anyone. The truth is, in Sudbury, top-end female opponents are about as common as roads without potholes. “I played against men only for the longest time,” said Sacchetto. “I used to complain more about not having women to play against, but in retrospect, I got a lot of benefits from playing all of those guys for all those years.”
“I used to play (squash professional) Mike McCue when I could beat him. Those were good times.”
Almost as rewarding as beating your sister, you might say.