18 Sep Former British squash champ brings new brand of fitness to Natick
NATICK — One bang sounds off a racquet, then a second off the top of the walled-in court. A plum-sized rubber ball leaves skid marks with every hit.
The cycle continues, with the two contestants skittering quickly around one another other to take their turn striking the ball — until one can’t.
Do that activity for 20 minutes and Cross Courts Squash and Fitness Center director and coach Nick Taylor promises one will have run a distance of 3,650 feet, burning more than 250 calories along the way.
Welcome to squash 57.
The game features two players — or four, in the case of doubles — using their racquets to strike the ball off a wall facing them, in such a way as to make it difficult for the opponent to retrieve it.
The game is played within a tight space — no more than a half a basketball court.
The sport gets its name from the standard “squash,” which is played with a waterdrop-shaped racquet and a 40-millimeter (about the size of a golf ball) rubber ball.
Now expand the ball to a bouncier 57 millimeters, but shorten and widen the racquet, and the sport becomes squash 57, which Taylor says as easier to play when compared to the original version.
“Squash 57 is not taxing on hips, knees, ankles like squash might be for some,” he said. “That makes it perfect for ages 40-50.”
And when it comes to athletic expertise, Taylor knows all about regular squash. Coming out of Manchester, England, he twice won the European Squash Championships, and at one point ranked third in England and 14th in the world.
In July, Taylor began running his squash academy at Cross Courts; he previously taught the game in Sudbury. His wife, Sarah, serves as assistant director and is also a coach at the academy.
Sarah Taylor gets more from squash 57 than just a good sweat. She has been crowned national champion in England among those over age 45, and twice for those over 40.
“It’s a fun and social game that can become competitive,” said Sarah Taylor, who coaches both groups and individuals at Cross Courts, which opened in 2007.
“Squash 57 is for people who don’t necessarily have any experience,” she continued. “Once women in their 40s or 50s have tried it, they say that they’ve never had a workout quite like it.”
At a rate of 382 calories per 30 minutes of play — higher than the estimated 360 calories lost from 10-mile run — squash 57 guarantees a fitness fix that works every muscle group, the Taylors said.
Even though it originated from and is widely played in England, squash has been hiding in plain sight for football, basketball or soccer fans in the United States.
Eleven Massachusetts colleges and universities have squash programs. Harvard University and Amherst College have housed clubs dating from before World War II, and Mount Holyoke College’s club was formed in 1897, according to the College Squash Association.
In MetroWest, students look to latch onto the sport as a way to gain admission to prestigious universities. Teens take up the four courts in Natick from 4 p.m. until closing (10 p.m.)
Among younger local players, a 10-year-old from Sudbury has achieved a top 5 national ranking at squash while training with Taylor, and the Taylors’ own 16-year-old son is ranked eighth in the country among those 17 and under.
Taylor said that as winter approaches, indoor activities such as squash 57 become a suitable release for those who continue to crave good workout.
Even though it’s not a particularly cheap sport, both versions of squash can be played on the mint Cross Courts at a membership rate of $110 per month. The academy offers squash 57 coaching clinics for $30 per hour.
“(From) fall to March, people look for something to play indoors,” says Taylor. “And after all, it’s about being part of a community as well.”
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