Day in the Life: Elian Vera

In the bare, echoey room of a squash court, the only sounds are shoes squeaking, the bouncing and hitting of a ball and the exhale of TPHS student Elian Vera (11) as he plays a round against his opponent. Although squash may be an unpopular sport among the TPHS student population, Vera has been playing the sport since he was very young and wishes to remain active in it through college.

Taking place in a 32 by 21 feet court, when players hit the ball with their racket, the ball cannot hit below the lowest line on the front wall and must also bounce once, at most, before being hit again. Matches are in best-of-five sets, with each round up to 11 points. 

For Vera, endless hours have been dedicated to the sport, as he attends practices six days a week and travels out of state for one to two tournaments each month. His squash journey started when he was introduced to it as a toddler. 

“My mom has been playing ever since she was in medical school, so she would often just bring me to the clubs and practices. We bonded through learning and playing it together,” Vera said. 

With his mom’s support and his 14 years of experience, Vera has competed in many tournaments throughout his career, all through the nonprofit membership association U.S. Squash.  The organization hosts tournaments for all ages, 25 of which Vera competes in per year. 

“There are Junior Championship Tournaments (JCTs) that only happen five times a year and have the top 32 in the nation competing, but there are also Gold Tournaments, which have 28 per year and are one level below,” Vera said. “I compete in both.” 

To keep his training at a constant level, Vera connects with different coaches from around the country in order to maintain his workouts and practices as he travels and attends competitions. 

“It really is beneficial to meet some coaches and get to know them because coaches for squash are a lot closer to their players than coaches for other team sports would probably be,” Vera said. “Sometimes I’ll have a good tournament in a specific area, and I’ll just fly out to wherever it is and my coach will be able to help me while I’m there. It’s all about trust and putting yourself out there as a player and individual.”

One of Vera’s coaches, Tyler Smith, lives in Washington, D.C. and has been training Vera since 2019.

“Elian is quick, dedicated and has the experience and goals to play squash at the collegiate level,” Smith said. “While he still needs to work on being patient, he is working on being more consistent with his training and dedication.”

Vera’s training sessions with Smith normally consist of solo hitting, weight lifting routines, private lessons for specific tactics, although both Vera and Smith are strict when it comes to his one day off for rest, as it is a necessary part of what keeps a competitive player like Vera up-and-running. 

In addition to his rigorous workouts with Smith, Vera also practices regularly with college athlete Oli Bikhazi-Green. 

“When I first started working with Elian, he was initially just a training partner, but our relationship grew into more of a wonderful friendship over time,” Bikhazi-Green said. 

As their relationship has grown since meeting nearly five years ago, Bikhazi-Green has seen firsthand how well off Vera’s skills are in action. 

“Elian is easily better than his results show. You need intelligence, coordination, speed and power; he already has a great hunger to improve beyond his talent and he’s only getting better as we push each other.” 

In tournaments as competitive as squash, while it is extremely important to stay fit and train, it is also necessary to prepare oneself mentally, which is something that Vera seeks to achieve day-to-day. 

“The day before [a competition], I like to fall asleep at 9:30 p.m. and wake up at around 8 a.m. Then I have to get in the right mindset and be relaxed; it’s majorly important to be prepared both mentally and physically,” Vera said. 

In the near future, Vera is hoping to seize the opportunity to showcase his skills on the court in college. Until then, however, his peers are there to ground him. 

“In squash or anything, Elian just needs to trust himself and those around him. He has the opportunity to be the best, but more importantly, he needs to remember to have fun.” 

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