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Working hard . . . Vicki Rae, with her Squash New Zealand Volunteer of the Year Award. PHOTO: CHRIS TOBIN

by Chris Tobin

Passionate is a word overused these days but it is probably the best word to describe Vicki Rae.

The Timaru Squash Rackets Club member was named New Zealand squash volunteer of the year in Auckland earlier this month after being nominated by both her club and the Midlands district, without her knowledge.

“It’s cool that people think enough of me but I’m only a cog,” she said last week.

“Without them [others in the sport] I can’t do it. It’s not an award for me – it speaks of the work going on at our club and in the district.

“I’ve only got this award because I’ve been backed up by a good club and a good board.”

From halcyon days in the 1980s, when squash was flying high and clubs boomed, it has been a struggle since then attracting young players as society has changed and more sports and activities have become available.

In the 1980s the Timaru club had 500 members; it stands at around 120 these days. Midlands district, which stretches from Oamaru to the Rakaia River, has about 900 members, 80 of them juniors.

Rae, who has been club captain at Timaru for 10 years and has just been re-elected for her second term as president, is working hard to boost the sport

“We went through a time 10 years ago when things were looking sad. We’ve now increased year on year and we’ve got sponsors on board.

“The district and club have a very good junior programme.

“You have to look after older members but the future of the sport is not in the older players, it’s the juniors.

“People can get a bit precious about the club. There’s a far bigger picture; we want the sport to be successful.”

Rae created the junior training programme in Midlands.

“Without her vision and enthusiasm this would not have happened,” Squash Midlands general manager Leanne Spite said.

“Vicki has given our junior players every opportunity available to improve their game and to be competitive at national level.”

Getting sponsorship has been vital and Rae said support from Trust Aoraki, Alpine Energy, the Mid South Community Trust and other smaller sponsors was crucial.

“Without our sponsors it would be hard to do what we’re doing.”

A frustration for Rae has been the lack of coverage given the sport by mainstream media, especially television, which she labels woeful.

“Joelle [King] was named sportsperson of the Commonwealth Games this year and won two golds. On every day of the Games she was on the court competing.”

She said Paul Coll was also figuring prominently and both players were among the best in the world but were neglected by the media.

King won the gold medals in the women’s singles and doubles at the games on the Gold Coast this year, while Coll took a silver medal in the men’s singles and bronze in the mixed doubles.

“We’re lucky we’ve got incredible athletes in our sport. They’re humble, down to earth and they train hard.”