Sunday, September 21, 2014

Athletic Player Profile: Nicole Bunyan

Today I'm going to do my first athletic player profile. I will be profiling current Princeton student and St. Michaels University School (SMUS) alumna, Nicole Bunyan.

Nicole graduated SMUS the year before I started working there. When Nicole is back in Victoria I get on court with her quite frequently. I've seen her game develop over the past 3 years. She's a tremendous role model not just for the kids I coach, but for me too! Nicole has a wonderful personality, loves squash, training and working hard. Two summers ago she started training for a triathlon as part of her off season training and was a top finisher in her age category. Undoubtably being a top squash player and doing well with her academics must be a challenge. It's hard to imagine where she finds the time for her new health and fitness blog Squash On Squash ( Once you get to know her you will understand where her motivation comes from. Today you will get that chance to find out how she has gotten to where she is, what drives her to do what she's doing, and what her plans are post graduation.

Here are my Nicole Bunyan interview questions and answers. Enjoy!

Question 1Where are you going to school, what year are you in and what are you studying?
I'm a senior at Princeton University, and I'm majoring in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EEB, for short), and getting a minor in French.

Question 2: What do you want to do once you've graduated?
Ah, the age old question! Well, it is if you're 21. I have realized over the past few years that I want to pursue my passion in health and fitness. I used to think that meant that I would be come a sports medicine doctor, but I've since realized that there are other options out there. I find exercise science and nutrition fascinating, so I might pursue a masters degree in one or both of those fields. I also want to get my personal training certification, and become a trainer either full or part time for a little while. Another option I'm considering is working for a health and fitness startup, such as Greatist or Popsugar. Right now this is just an idea, but I'd love to continue writing about and researching health and fitness.

Question 3: How old were you when you started playing squash?
Well, I first tried it when I was about 7 and hated it. I don't know why, but I was just much more into soccer and team sports. I was much more interested in playing "squash golf" (whacking the ball around the ground with a racquet) than actual squash. Then, when I was 10 I quit tap dance, and picked up squash again, this time with one of my best friends, Lindsay. We started playing together once a week, throwing the occasional tournament in there. This escalated to twice a week, and eventually, in grade 9, I quit soccer altogether (except for my high school team, which happened after squash season in the spring), to focus on squash.

Question 4: Why did you start playing squash?
Like I said above, my mom told me I had to replace tap dancing with something else. I don't exactly know if it was my mom's decision or my own, but the replacement activity was squash! Both of my parents play, so I'd always been around the courts hanging out. I also really liked running around, and so it's possible that my parents wanted to contain my energy and excitement in a large box, aka a squash court.

Question 5: Why do you continue to play squash now?
I continue to play squash for many reasons. First off, I love the game. I love how you can hit by yourself and practice every single shot. I love how there's also a fitness aspect to it, and that you can get a workout with just one other person in a period of 45 minutes. I've also been fortunate to have met an enormous number of amazing people through squash. It's such a great social game, and I have had the opportunity to connect with people all around the world, just because of our shared love of the game.

Question 6: What drives you?
Since I am playing at college, my team is a big factor in my drive right now. Aside from the team aspect, I like playing to feel good about myself. I like getting tough shots back, and I like hitting a satisfying nick (once in a blue moon, I mean). Knowing that it's "all on you" gives you a sense of power and also pride, which can be daunting, but also rewarding.

Question 7: What is your favourite shot?
Oh man, my favourite shot, or my best shot? You'd think they'd be the same thing, right? Alright I'll try to make this a little less complicated. I'd say that I love the backhand volley drop off the serve, especially if it's a lob serve. If I'm feelin it that particular day, I will exploit that one until my opponent is literally running to the front left corner to cheat for it.

Question 8: How would you decsribe your style of squash?
I would say that I am an "aggressive digger" (that sounds like I'm some kind of insect or something). I like to prolong the rallies to exhaust my opponent, preferably by volleying as much as possible to stay around the T area. Funnily enough, I actually find that I win most of my rallies in the back of the court. I use my front court shots more as "moving' shots, and then try to use their weak "get" to my advantage by putting it away in the back corners.

Question 9: What type of cross training do you prefer?
Are you asking me to write a novel here?! Ill try to narrow it down. I'd say that my favourite way to cross train is spinning as I have found it to be most effective. I also think that circuit training with a combination of
weights and explosive exercises is extremely beneficial, as I've found that doing this has improved my speed dramatically. I also do "enjoy" treadmill intervals, but I found out this summer that too much running on top of squash is too much high impact activity. The way I got fit way back in the day was by spinning 3 times a week. I honestly owe 95% of my fitness (both mental and physical) to spinning, as it taught me how to push in uncomfortable settings, and this translated directly on court.

Question 10: How many times per week to you play squash?
During season at school I play 6 days a week. Sometimes I will go down to the courts twice a day to either hit with a coach or to solo. One of the things I've found about college squash is that since the practice plans aren't specifically tailored to your needs as an individual, you need to find the time to work on your weaknesses (and strengths!). Freshman year I found that my drops had somehow magically disappeared by the end of the season. Since I hadn't been practicing them as much as I had in the past, I had lost confidence in hitting them. It wasn't so much that they had "left the building" altogether, but rather than I hadn't been practicing them enough to be confident in hitting them.

Question 11: How many times per week do you train off court?
During season, we practice 6 days a week, 2 hours a day. Twice a week, an hour of these sessions are off court in the weight room, and every single other practice we will do some sort of fitness, whether it be on or off court. Our non-hitting fitness training consists mostly of ghosting (maybe once or twice a week), bike/spin workouts (about twice a week), and on occasion, circuit workouts (stairs, jump rope, etc).

Question 12: What are your goals for this coming season?
This is my last year, so I'm all about no holding back this season. I'm going to pull out all the stops to see how fast I can get on court, and work on consistency in my shot making. Most shots I have the capability to hit, but I don't have the confidence to hit them consistently. I guess my motto this year is "confidence and consistency".

Question 13: How do you balance school, squash and a blog?
It's busy, I'm not going to lie. However, I'm at the stage now where, 1) I've gotten so, so so much better at managing my time, and 2) I genuinely like 99% of what I do. Sure, I'm busy, but I love doing all of these things. I also teach spin classes once a week, coach a 15 year old girl squash, and peer tutor French to underclassmen, but these are all things that I chose to do. Being busy isn't so bad if you like what you're doing. I'd much rather be insanely busy but happy, than have lots of free time but bored. I find that the busier I am, the better I have to manage my time, and the less I procrastinate. Every once in a while I have to take a step back and either let myself sleep in, or take a couple hours to have an unplanned "chill out" session with friends, and this keeps me grounded. Work hard, play hard, and rest hard.

Question 14: What was the inspiratin for your blog, Squash On Squash?
I've read healthy living blogs ever since my spring semester of my Freshman year at college. I was on a mission to get healthier, and became obsessed with reading about other people's workouts, meals, and recipes. I'd casually thought about starting my own, but never had the motivation or the material to do so. This past summer I had some time to kill at home (aside from training), and talked about it with a friend (who is currently training for a couch-Ironman!) who was also interested in starting a blog. We thought about starting one together, but eventually I decided to just do it on my own, since I wanted to "go big or go home". When I'd go for long solo rides or runs, I'd find myself thinking a lot and analyzing how I felt and was performing. I kept having all of these "workout epiphanies", and eventually realized I needed to write them all down to keep track. Furthermore, I really enjoyed sharing this knowledge with my family and friends, or seeing if others athletes had these "epiphanies" as well. Once I had written down a fair number of these thoughts, I realized that I had enough material to start a blog, and that I finally had something that I thought was worthwhile to write about.

Question 15: What would you eat during a typical tournamet day?
I'm a big fan of eating what you train with (same goes for races). If I have a match at 11, I'll make sure I have finished eating by 9. Depending on whether I am at home or on the road, my meals differ. I'm not too picky, as long as I have protein and some healthy fat in there. 

Typical prematch/race meals:
-Greek yogurt with PB/AB and a banana (or half a banana)
-Greek yogurt with protein powder + almond butter and a couple bites of banana
-Oatmeal with peanut butter and preferably a banana as well.
-And, if I can't find oatmeal or Greek yogurt, I can do a whole wheat bagel or toast with PB or AB and a banana.


Most of my breakfasts are around the 500-600 calorie mark, and although I don't count calories, I've found that I feel my best on court if I have a healthy well rounded breakfast that is in this range. More than this will send me into the lethargic stage, whereas less than this will leave me hungry by the time I am getting on court. 
Some exceptions: When I am extremely nervous (usually before races, which are also early in the morning), or before a really big match, I don't eat as much, and try to listen to my body. I find that the adrenaline compensates for the under eating, and that I actually perform better on a slightly empty stomach under these circumstances.

Things I avoid on race/match days:
-eggs and omelettes. I find that if they're not cooked properly, they can sit funnily in your stomach. Also, I don't crave salty things in the morning. If I have an evening or afternoon match I can eat eggs a few hours before, but if it's a morning match, I try to stay away from them.
-Pancakes and french toast. When I was in high school, I was famous (well, not famous, but it was a trend) for getting a large crepe from DeDutch, French toast, or chocolate chip pancakes (with whipped cream!) before matches. And you know what? It worked just fine for the most part. I don't know if it's because "ignorance is bliss" or because my body actually can't function at the same level with those foods in my stomach, but I don't touch them before matches anymore. They are too heavy, and sit in my stomach making me feel lethargic. I don't even eat them before training sessions (mostly because I like to train how I compete), and try to leave these special indulgences for off-days, or as a post-tournament/race treat.

I like to keep it simple, have a sandwich or substantial salad. My body is pretty good at telling me if it "needs" a sandwich, which usually happens in between tough training sessions, when it's craving carbs. My general rules for in between match meals:
-Nothing fried or greasy.

-No red meat (it takes too long to digest)
-Must have some lean protein (fish/chicken/turkey, or beans) -Vegetables (they also help re-hydrate you!)
-Keep it on the lighter side (around 500-600 calories for a healthy meal)

I am much more flexible when it comes to dinner, and I don't have to do the boring" grilled chicken and vegetables" route. I actually like having Indian food, Mexican food, or something even more exotic, just as long as it's not greasy. Of course, I make sure it fits the "eat clean" bill, but I don't worry about straying from red meat or any other specific foods.

Question 16: How many hours of sleep do you typically get a night during the school year?
I shoot for at least 8. Sometimes it ends up being 7.5, by the time I actually fall asleep, but if this happens consistently during the week I'll make sure that I get at least one or two nights of 9+ hours. I find that Sundays are great days to catch up on sleep, and I try to leave Sunday mornings free for this purpose.

Question 17: What has your experience been playing an individual sport on a team setting?
It's great, especially coming from Juniors where it's very individual. As someone who found it difficult to get that competitive/kill instinct (funnily enough I was, and still am, better at training than competing), I think that I thrive in the team atmosphere. Having your whole team behind you gives you that extra incentive to push hard and pull out the win. If I could name one thing that I've learned from competing as an individual on a team, it would be learning how to make yourself win, even when you're not playing your best.

Question 18: Do you prefer competing individually or as a team?
I find it easier to compete for a team. It naturally pushes me, rather than having to find extra motivation than just "winning". That being said, when I'm on court, I'm not thinking about the result, or what my team is thinking. My team motivates me by cheering, and physically being there. Oh, also, I am such a crowd lover, which I discovered in college squash. If I see that I've got people to play for and impress, I find that I rise to the challenge, and my intensity skyrockets.

Question 19: How many times have you hit your head coming out of a squash court at Princeton??
HA. Maybe only once I think. I have, however, suffered from many, many leg cramps from having to stoop so low to get through those doors.

Question 20: How do you hydrate before/during tournaments or matches?
The day before I make sure I am drinking enough water such that I am peeing every hour. The morning of the match(es), I drink a lot of water, up until an hour before my match so that I don't have to pee during the competition. If you're in a dry, air conditioned building all day watching squash, you're getting much more dehydrated than you think, so my advice is to always be carrying a water bottle around with you. If I've got a water bottle, I will drink it without thinking,

Question 21: Why do you have so much to say about health and fitness, and why are you interested in it?
I never realized how much of a difference doing all of the little things consistently would make. When you get used to being well hydrated, eating clean, and thus performing well, that becomes the norm. You then realize how you were in a fog before, and how those "crappy/bad" days were not inevitable, but largely a result of not being aware of your potential. In other words, I do healthy things so that I can perform my best (or as close to it as possible), 99% of the time. This severely diminishes the number of "bad" training days that I have, such that when I have a bad day, I can accept it and not feel too upset with myself.

In Summary
You can tell why I chose Nicole as my first athletic player profile. I've been fortunate to meet her, coach her, and have various discussions about squash, fitness, and training. I'm also thrilled she agreed and took the time out of her busy schedule to do this interview. She is such a motivating and inspirational human being. Nicole is proof that you can succeed at school, sport, and life. She is also proof that it is possible to enjoy training hard and pushing yourself to the limits. Nicole is also proof of the link between physical and mental wellbeing. When asked how she performs at such a high level on and off the court she responded with, 'it's about getting enough sleep, hydration, and eating well. All of these factors affect training and are way more important than any new pair of shoes, or training equipment will.'

If you haven't already done so, check out Nicole's blog at She has lots of tips on how to improve your fitness and to say healthy, even while being away from home as a college student. It's obvious that whatever Nicole pursues after school she will excel in. She is motivated, a hard worker (and enjoys it!) and makes those around her better. The only thing I'm not so thrilled about is that she is now the author of the best written and most interesting Serious Squash blog post! Thanks Nicole;)


  1. Thanks Chris! I had a ton of fun answering the questions :)

  2. You can thank me when you're rich and famous Nicole:) But really, thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to do the interview.


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