Walker Along Roads Untraveled
Alister Walker emerged Africa’s own jewel when he made history by winning Botswana’s first gold medal in an international squash tournament when he ascended an African Champion in 2013 against Zambian Kelvin Ndlovu in the Men’s Individual All-Africa Games title. He is a former England representative who has since switched his international allegiance to Botswana, his birth country.
He revolutionized Squash sport code in Botswana by taking it to greater heights of recognition when he tasted victory at the PSA International 35 Grasshopper Cup in Switzerland after beating England’s own elite Daryl Selby. If Squash was apart of the Olympics we most likely would have an Olympic Medal courtesy of Walker. Now young upcoming athletes know professional sports is a possibility, not only within the Squash but even those in other sports codes. Pristine had a chat with Alister Walker, better known as Ali, as he takes us through his journey in Squash and why he decided to take this untraveled roads.
Who is Alister Walker and how did the racket find you?
The best way to answer this is to give you some background. I truly am a cocktail. My father is the quintessential Englishman. Educated at Oxford, well spoken and mannered, thirst for knowledge and always up to date with current affairs both internationally and domestically within Botswana. Sounds rather boring but anyone who knows him will tell you he is a pleasure to spend time with. My mother on the other hand was born among 16 siblings in Shoshong. An extremely strong willed Motswana she achieved well academically going to university in Scotland and eventually getting her Phd in Agroforestry in Stellenbosch. They really look like the most unlikely couple in many ways but they have been married 35 years and I can hardly ever remember them having a single fight.
So being born in Botswana and leaving at 14 to boarding school in England because I couldn’t stay home and achieve my squash goals I have become a real mix of two cultures of which I am very proud.
Being one of the most respectable professional sportspersons, what is currently happening in your life?
Currently I am in Chicago competing in the Windy City International squash tournament. Apart from competing, training and recovery my life at this stage consists of movies and reading around squash commitments. I love going out to restaurants and a little bit of coaching.
Tell us about your greatest achievement so far!
It came in Namibia. The All Africa squash championships. It was not the greatest achievement in terms of how I played level wise or who I beat. Winning gold there made history for Botswana winning its first squash medal in an international event!
Would you say your life changed ever since your breakthrough?
No not at all. It was just a moment to savour and enjoy. Life carried on swiftly after that high as I had to head back to compete in the Middle East and London the very next day.
How are you generally recognized around the world as a squash pro player?
Squash is a very small world and within that most players can be very into it and fanatical. They love to follow the world tour and watch on the online streaming channel. This exposure has meant players are more recognized than in many recent years. We shall be recognized and welcomed in any squash club in the world.
It has always been quite easy for me to see my goals. Sometimes I write them down or sometimes I just keep them in my mind. The main thing is to find a process or plan to achieve your goals and fall in love with the process everyday of your life.
What is your biggest accomplishment so far in sports?
My world ranking in many ways is the only real gauge of the standard I have managed to achieve in squash. There is no lying about your standard or ability when you play 10-15 tournaments a year against all the best players in the world. The ranking system will give you an accurate reflection of your ability on a consistent bases over 12 months. 12 in the world is my accomplishment so far.
What has been your biggest challenge so far in your sports field?
Earning enough money to have something to really show for your career. Squash is not a high earning sport. We do it for the love. We all would like something to show financially when it’s all done.
Any other interests outside squash?
Movies and TV shows. That’s about it. Oh and history. I am major WWII fiend.
Going back to the court and being among the strongest competitors in the world, who would you say you admire the most?
I admire them all Ramy Ashour, Nick Matthew, Gregory Gaultier and everyone! We basically live with each other many months of the year on tour. We know each other very well, strengths and weaknesses, personalities and characters. We are friends, competitors and all have huge respect for one another.
You are always on the move; competitions, practice, press commitments and home bases – USA and Botswana. How do you balance your family life, friends and even your “me” time?
Friends are always a tough balance. As you get older you spend less time with friends and more on family and your responsibilities towards them and it helps if your partner can be your best friend. Getting “me” time is rare. Generally on a place or in a hotel room. Time in Botswana is always in the off season. June or July before the season gets back underway!
Most hilarious advice ever received?
“Don’t think, just play.” And it is often the answer!
The most peculiar/embarrassing moment?
I was once April fooled to believe I was auditioning for the James Bond movie The World Is Not Enough!
Is there any saying you live by?
“So you have enemies? Good, that means you’ve stood for something at sometime in your life.” Winston Churchill
Now to make you feel slightly uncomfortable, if we exclude you from this year’s sportsman of the year award, who would you nominate or give the award to?
It’s pretty easy question for me. Nijel Amos is clearly the highest achieving male athlete in the country!
If squash was not your career what would you choose to do in another field?
That’s a tough question. I think I may have loved to work in finance. Having not made a huge amount of money from squash I would probably go into a career I could earn a lot of money in. London, New York or Hong Kong with a good job in finance would be good I think.
Where do you see yourself in 5 or 10 years from now?
An even tougher question. Firstly it depends if I stay in squash or choose an alternative career. I have the opportunity to do well coaching in the U.S or going back to Botswana and building an elite future for squash at home.
What do you think of the future of sport in Botswana?
I have always thought on the whole attitudes have been dated on this subject in Botswana. When I was growing up our elders said we should only be playing sport in order to get ourselves to university so that we could get “good jobs” whatever that was meant to mean, I guess steady income! However, I think attitudes have started to change. Those athletes who did get to university through sports are now more influential and are bringing up their own children to believe a career as a professional athlete is a legitimate career choice. On my last visit home I spent some with Thatho Kgosimore, head of the sports council. I remember watching him play tennis and he used it to go to college in the U.S and it’s clear from his attitude that he will remove the the ideology of the past and encourage young talented Batswana that there is a career in sport.
Alister still continues to outshine in his field and this year we shall see more of him as he makes his way through most Squash tournaments as Botswana’s pride.
Coached by: David Pears, Paul Johnson
Racquet used: Tecnifibre Suprem NG130
Education background: A levels- Wycliffe College, UK
Years in sport: 22 years
Claim of fame: African Champion
Highest ranking: World number 12
Current ranking: World number 23
Medal record: 10 PSA World Tour titles, All Africa gold medalist
By: Gaone Abigail Moalosi