Dana Betts is not only the first American ever to rank World #1 on the Women’s Pro Doubles Squash Tour, she’s also a business owner, wife, and mother to be. In honor of International Women’s Day this week, we sat down with this strong, smart, and determined all-star. Dana grew up in Brooklyn Heights, New York, where she first fell in love with squash and has been playing ever since at national levels. Her athleticism, dedication, and ability to balance it all totally inspire us!
How old were you when you first started playing squash and how did you get into the sport?
I was five years old when I started playing squash. My dad introduced me and my sisters at a young age because he thought it was the perfect “city sport” for us (there were not many grass playing fields around). There happened to be a squash and tennis club in Brooklyn Heights, called The Heights Casino, and it was right down the street from where I grew up, so we became members there and I grew up playing and training there.
I started playing in a kids clinic a couple times a week and as I grew older, I became more serious about improving and becoming a top-ranked U.S. junior squash player. In eighth grade, my goal quickly became to earn a spot on the U.S. Junior National World Squash Team, which includes the top four juniors ranked in the U.S. under 19. The team competes against other countries in the Junior World Championships, held every other year. Through hard work and dedication, my dream came true: I made the U.S. Junior World Team my senior year in high school and competed in the 1997 Junior World Championships held in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil that summer.
Where did you play in college?
I played at Bowdoin College, a small liberal arts college in Maine, ranking#1 on the team all four years. I was a four-time All-American and co-captain sophomore through senior year. Playing on a school team was a great experience because I had spent so many years training on my own. Training with 10 other girls, all striving for the same goal and working together to improve as a whole team, was refreshing and more fun than training solo! I made all of my best friends on that team and continue to stay in touch with them.
You were ranked #1 in Women’s Doubles for the last 14 months. Tell us a little about the experience.
It’s hard to explain the initial feeling of finding out my ranking went up to the world number one at 36 years old. I guess anything is possible at any age if you put the work into it and have the mental determination and discipline ! It was pretty surreal. I had been working so hard on my fitness for the last five years. I had also been focusing on making changes to my actual squash game and improving on certain shots while also becoming more patient. With improved fitness, I was able play out longer points and keep the rally going, instead of trying to end the point too early.
For the few years before I became #1, I was making it to most of the finals in tournaments and it was very frustrating to always be falling short of winning a title. It was at this point last year that I changed my mentality and let go of my fear of losing. My new confidence helped me to relax on court and play better than I ever had in my life!
The funny thing is that when you are #1, there is no more striving to go up, up, up the rankings! Now, there is the pressure to keep your #1 ranking and continue to play at the level you have risen to. It took me a little while to adjust to being #1 and not letting the pressure get to me. If fear and doubt get the best of me, I totally become a different player and tighten up and do not play my game.
What exercises do you feel keep you in the best shape for when you are on the court?
My fitness regimen is mainly to do Barry’s Bootcamp and spinning classes. Barry’s Bootcamp is great for squash because it focuses on aerobic and anaerobic, combining long distance running with sprint intervals, light weights, an plyometrics. The spin classes are great because they focus on pushing against heavy resistance along with sprint intervals and long distance pushes. These types of workouts help me to be able to last longer on court and play at the same intensity throughout the entire match.
To stay in peak physical condition, how important is the cardio to weight training balance?
For my body type, I build muscle very easily, so I don’t focus on weight training as much as cardio. I do some lightweight lifting, but really only to keep my body balanced and to maintain strength.
What is your usual diet while training?
I eat three meals a day and snacks in between. I always try to have a big breakfast, usually loading up on carbs, and then for lunch and dinner, I’ll try to have more protein and vegetables and cut down on carbs. If I’m playing in a tournament, I will load up on carbs for dinner the night before to help store energy for matches the next day.
You play doubles. How often are you practicing with your partner vs. alone?
Believe it or not, I never practice with my doubles partner—because she lives in Toronto, Canada! I hit solo sometimes, but I usually practice through friendly matches with players at my squash club because I benefit mostly through playing matches.
How do you prepare for a big tournament?
I usually set up a couple really tough practice matches to prepare for a tournament. The week before, to cut down on fitness, I do maybe one or two spin classes and don’t go all out—just a light workout to keep my body loose. I like to conserve my energy for the week leading up to a tournament and go all out for the tournament! Hard workouts will actually do more harm than good right before a tournament, only tiring my legs out.
When you’re not playing squash, what do you do to unwind?
I hate to admit it, but I love to veg out, snuggle with my two dogs, and watch back-to-back-to-back episodes of Law & Order SVU!
You own a jewelry company, Dana Betts Jewelry. What advice do you have for someone who is balancing two worlds like you are?
It’s pretty tough, but definitely possible! Intertwining the two worlds of art and sport, I often pick up jewelry clients through playing on the squash tour and getting to know the spectators and sponsors at the tournaments. I also designed and made an exclusive squash jewelry collection, which squash players seem to like and appreciate!
Sometimes it can get stressful doing so many things at the same time and traveling frequently, so I try not to spread myself too thin. I just take a step back and remember to do one thing at a time. It also helps me to schedule out my entire week ahead of time, so I am on a more structured schedule.
Since you have already been ranked #1, what are you next goals for squash?
Reaching #1 has never happened at a better time! I am pregnant with my first baby, so I am forced to take a step back from competing. It’s hard to do, but this long break could be yet another challenge for me to get back into shape and get motivated to play on tour again one day.
I would also like to continue giving back and teaching kids how to play squash. I also want to encourage younger teenagers and adults to try playing doubles squash!
Do you have any advice for people just beginning their squash game?
Take a few lessons with a squash pro. Or, watch some YouTube videos of squash first, so you can learn the proper grip, follow-through, and footwork basics.
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