Squash has taken Thomas Pickles around the country this year.
In October, he reached a career high ranking of A2, and competed at the NZ Squash Classic against some of the country’s best players. Last month, he represented Midlands at the senior interdistrict team champs in Upper Hutt.
But his highlight of the year was winning the Oamaru Squash and Badminton Club Champs, beating Keidah Bungard in five sets in the final.
In Oamaru, Pickles is the second-highest ranked player, behind Bungard. They have grown up playing squash together and are fierce rivals on the court, but good friends off it.
“It’s quite good having grown up with someone around the same capability, someone you can train with and push each other,” Pickles said.
Club champs also held a special place in Pickles’ heart, because of his family’s success.
His father, David, won the second division C grade cup and his brother Joel won the D grade cup, and was named most improved player.
Pickles started playing squash age 12. He often hung around the courts watching his father play, and coach Peter Mountain encouraged him to give it a go too.
During his teenage years, he trained under Mountain, and then Aaron Bungard. Showing a natural ability, it was not too long before he started beating his father.
Pickles has always been sporty – he also plays football, tennis, basketball and touch.
But squash has been his main focus in recent years, and he wants to improve his ranking again next year, after dropping back down to B1 .
His goal was A1, which he admitted would be “a big push”, but he wanted to give it a good crack.
“I like to see myself improve – I want to see myself go up the ranks,” he said.
Pickles works as a builder for Roger Gilchrist Building Services Ltd – and the physical nature of the job helped his squash game.
“It keeps you strong, you’re using every muscle in your body, which you do on the squash court as well.”
He loved squash’s social scene, and said it was a great sport to pick up as an adult. He was now the club captain at the Oamaru Squash and Badminton Club, and wanted to encourage more juniors to pick up a racket too.
“You can play it at any time, and it’s a really good social scene,” he said.
“It becomes quite addictive as well.”