20-year-old Mariam Malik, Pakistan’s up-and-coming squash player, has had the honor of representing Pakistan in numerous prestigious competitions, both domestically and on the international stage. The rising squash player has several trophies to her name. Her most recent accomplishment was in September 2022 when she emerged victorious on the national level in the prestigious girls’ Under-19 category of the Pakistan Squash Federation (PSF) Junior Squash Circuit Number 3. In December 2022, she achieved yet another remarkable feat by emerging victorious in the PSF National Ranking Championship. Currently, she is number 3 in women ranking in Pakistan. She has also participated in the US Open Championship, Philadelphia, Peshawar Open Women Championship 2020, Combaxxx Open (Women) 2021, CAS-Serena International Squash Championship (Women) 2022, and Chief of Naval Staff (CNS) Open (Women) 2023.
In a recent exclusive conversation with Hilal for Her, Mariam delved into her ambitious aspirations and remarkable accomplishments.
What motivated you to pursue a career as a professional squash player?
I have consistently had a strong interest in sports. Were I not a squash player, I would still pursue athletics, either as a cricket player or a tennis player. My father is the one who introduced me to this sport. Initially, I engaged in playing badminton but subsequently, my father introduced me to the sport of squash. Over time, I continued to play and squash developed into an avid passion of mine. Through consistent practice, I began to improve. I acquired a substantial amount of knowledge and skills from the more experienced individuals and trainers.
When I achieved victory in PSF Junior Squash Circuit Number 3, it was a feat that exceeded my expectations. My parents provided both financial and emotional support, as well as encouragement, to foster my pursuit of squash as a professional career. Thanks to them I managed to discover and polish my aptitude, resulting in my achievements. Following my victories, I earned commendation from my acquaintances and relatives, which served as additional impetus for me to relentlessly pursue my aspiration of being a professional squash player.
There is a multitude of individuals who have served as inspiration, but my father has had the most substantial influence in propelling me towards the person and athlete that I am now. At several junctures, I experienced a desire to relinquish my efforts, but my father instilled in me a sense of optimism. The encouragement and valuable time he has invested in me have enabled me to excel as a player. My father, who is a squash player himself, consistently encouraged and motivated me to persevere in my quest, even when confronted with challenges.
What strategies do you employ to keep a balance between your professional and personal life?
It is undeniably challenging to keep balance, especially because I am studying. Time management poses a difficulty, but I remain resolute in my determination to achieve success for my country and bring honor to Pakistan. Occasionally, squash impacts my studies, while at other times, studies affect my performance in squash but I always try my best to maintain a balance between my rigorous training regimen and academic pursuits. I express my gratitude to all those who have provided me with encouragement in my pursuits; their support has been important for my achievements. With the support of my family, teachers, coaches, and classmates, I am able to achieve both academic excellence and peak performance in squash.
Is squash lacking in recognition in Pakistan, in your opinion?
I am of the opinion that we are part of a nation that has a strong affinity for cricket, and it is evident that the media is biased towards covering sports that are popular among the audience. Additionally, it is worth noting that the private sector also mostly has a strong inclination towards cricket, resulting in a dearth of sponsorship and investment in other sports. Other sports such as hockey, tennis, table tennis, athletics, squash, badminton, and more, also require similar levels of investment if we are to see players in these sports making a mark. Pakistan has demonstrated its ability to develop exceptional athletes in these sports as well, therefore, I strongly advocate for equal recognition to be extended to all sports. Regarding squash, there is a notable absence of recognition from the media and, private sector, sponsors. This lack of support means that talented players often face financial difficulties, making it challenging for them to pursue their passion and reach their full potential. The absence of recognition and support for this sport has resulted in a waste of talent.
As a squash player, what has been the most challenging obstacle that you have faced?
The most challenging obstacle was navigating the intricacies of internal dynamics within the squash bodies. Occasionally, one encounters individuals who lack authenticity and they come to the forefront, which is a significant challenge but I believe in earning my place through hard work and dedication to my sport. My parents consistently emphasized experiential learning, and desired for me to exhibit resilience and strength, and confront my own challenges. I am confident that I have engaged in all my matches with genuine dedication, and I have been fortunate to get benevolence from Allah. He has consistently provided assistance to me, and as a result, I am currently striving to achieve additional accolades and conquer all of my apprehensions.
What strategies do you intend to employ in order to enhance your global ranking?
I intend to secure additional championships both domestically and internationally, leveraging the guidance and support of my father, mentors, and family. I adhere to a demanding workout regimen to ensure that I stay fit, focused and disciplined. I engage in rigorous training for a duration of six to seven hours daily, encompassing activities such as gym workouts, badminton sessions, court exercises, and running.
Do you believe that gender is a constraining element in your sport?
My experience of training with men provides me with a competitive advantage while playing with females. I advocate for the elimination of discrimination and the promotion of gender equality, emphasizing the importance of mutual respect between both genders.
What guidance do you have for young, ambitious athletes?
Maintain unwavering faith in your abilities and persist without surrendering. Although there may be numerous obstacles and challenges along the way, ultimately there will be triumph and success. Place your trust in Allah. Include your parents in your journey, as their presence can greatly contribute to your success. Therefore, it is important to avoid disappointing them. With the grace of God, you will attain success in all your undertakings.
Amna Malik, 16-year-old sister of Mariam Malik is also a talented squash player, emulating her sister’s success. She has emerged victorious in the Asian Junior Squash Championship, 2023, PSF Junior Open 2023, and Karachi Junior Open, 2020. Together, the two sisters bring new hope for the sport of squash in Pakistan.