Wednesday, April 22, 2020

My Tribute To Stuart Dixon

I've always had a difficult time dealing with the passing of a loved one. Dealing with loss is not easy and as someone who doesn't outwardly express a lot of emotion it's difficult to let your guard down to feel hurt and vulnerable and to share this pain with other people. But we can either not talk about it and hope that time will heal our wounds or we can think about all of the joy and wonderful things that person brought into your world. Today's post is my chance of doing just that for one of the kindest humans and best coaches I've ever had the privilege to know, Stuart Dixon.


Stuart didn't just recently pass away, it was back in September so I apologize for taking so long to get to this. A friend from back in Victoria told me about Stuart's passing. I knew he hadn't been well for some time, but I didn't know the finish line was so close. Later that week I watched his funeral remotely from Turks and Caicos and I felt bad that I couldn't be there in person to show my respect for his wife Sandy. I figure it's about time that I shared how wonderful of a person he was and important he was to me as coach and also as a person.

Stuart is a well known coach not only here in Canada, but worldwide. He's coached multiple Canadian National Teams and he's worked with plenty of top juniors and professional players throughout his career. He's in the Squash Canada hall of fame and was the proud owner of the Victoria Squash Club (VSC).


As many of you are already well aware, the VSC was a club like no other in Canada. Dogs strolled by the courts, including Kiri, who was Stuart and Sandy's golden retriever. Stuart ran monthly cup tournaments which included after event parties hosted at Stuart and Sandy's house. They would hand cook dinner, including their famous mashed potatoes, for all of the participants and have a keg of beer to boot. The VSC was a club where the members truly felt like a part of the Dixon family.

I first met Stuart when I moved to Victoria in the summer of 2011. When I moved there he let me play and train at his club for free. I was a broke masters student, but I was one of the strongest players in the city and he loved having good players around the club. Shortly after he asked if I wanted to coach with him at St. Michaels University School. This school was close to the club and had 4 courts on campus. After our first season he told the school to hire me as their head coach and that's what they did. The school had a lot of respect for Stuart and generally did what he suggested. I owe everything to Stuart for my 8 years at that school.

Stuart had a way clarifying issues and making the correct choice seem more clear, but without telling you what to think or say. He did this in coaching too; even though I was much less experienced he would constantly ask me for my opinion on someones game or a specific training method; he was a lifelong learner. To this day I have never met a coach who absolutely loved coaching more than Stuart. Little did I know that my real master's degree was going to be by working alongside Stuart and not the diploma that the local university presented to me.

Stuart was a lot of fun on our school's team trips. Even in his 60's he was just like a big kid, full or enthusiasm and excited about the matches that lie ahead. He was honest, yet super positive when coaching which made everyone love and respect him. In some ways it's quite intimidating to be working with someone like that because you feel like you don't measure up, and really how could you?

One particular tournament I remember sharing a room with Stuart during the Rugby World Cup. I believe it was the semis or finals and New Zealand was playing. Being a Kiwi, Stuart loved his rugby and especially the All Blacks. So at 3am he had his alarm set so he could tune in to watch the big match. Knowing nothing about rugby, I stayed up and and watched the game with him learning a bit about the sport and the team. And if my memory serves me correctly, I believe the All Blacks won which put Stuart in an even better me than usual.

If I had to select Stuart's best characteristics, I would say that he always made time for everyone (and every dog too) and he genuinely took an interest in their lives. He was known for constantly being on 'west coast time' because he would be deep into a discussion with the mail person or someone who passed by the club who was a member a few decades ago. Knowing what he was doing nobody could ever get upset at having to wait a bit for him. That's just how he lived. He would give you as much of his time as you wanted. I spent many of afternoons sitting on the couches or in his office talking about squash and life in general. When he did eventually get on court he would stay out there long after the practice because he was so engaged on helping this person learn and improve. Your level or age didn't matter to him and when your session was over he would continue chatting and cracking jokes.

As Stuart got older and his health slowly deteriorated the club was struggling more and more to pay the bills. He was the manager, owner and head coach, but the clubs revenue had been relying heavily on Stuart's coaching revenue to pay the bills for years. Stuart and Sandy have also put a lot of their own savings into keeping the club afloat. It was clear he wasn't into coaching and owning the club to make money. I'm still amazed that someone can be so unselfish and love what they do even while their business is struggling with such financial burden.

A couple of years ago now I started a Go Fund Me page for the club because it was going to have to shut its doors. It was time to pay the property tax and there were some other building expenses that totalled over $30,000. I remember Stuart said he had a month or so before he'd have to declare bankruptcy. I was determined to find a way to keep the club doors open. Later that day I thought about this funding idea and Stuart was initially reluctant. He didn't like the idea of asking for a handout, but I kept insisting it was the only way. Eventually he let me do it and the campaign was a major success. We raised over $50,000 and Stuart felt incredibly touched. He couldn't believe how many people cared and came out of the woodworks to show their love and support for Stuart. See it wasn't about the club necessarily as it was about Stuart. Everyone who knew him understood that there are few greater causes than helping such a beautiful individual. The club and Stuart at one time or another had made such a positive impact on so many peoples lives that by keeping the doors open those opportunities would continue.

The club struggled to pay the bills when Stuart couldn't get on court as much and also because the rent was quite high considering the low membership numbers. Stuart made it so cheap for people to pay a guest fee, or even cheaper if they were a member at another club, that likely resulted in the club having fewer total memberships. He wanted squash to be affordable for everyone even at his own expense. It also didn't help that the other club in town had not raised their membership dues since the courts were built a few decades ago. They are part of a government complex so they don't have the overhead facilities costs that the VSC did. So people living in Victorias had a choice to pay nearly twice the price to play at the VSC or save some cash and play at the rec centre. Ultimately not enough people chose to support the VSC and that's a big reason why I believe it ultimately faltered.

The club officially shut its doors last summer. Our Go Fund Me campaign helped it stay afloat for another year and it gave the members an opportunity to get a committee and plan in place to take over the club or rejuvenate it somehow, but to this day it has yet to occur. Hopefully someday in the future the VSC will be back and I would like to think better than ever, but without Stuart it could never be the same.

I vividly recall the last time I was with Stuart. Him and Sandy came out to a Thai restaurant with 2 of our mutual friends. I brought him a bottle of Scotch (he loved Scotch) and it was our goodbye meal before I was moving to Turks and Caicos. Stuart had been battling cancer for some time now and he was not as spritely as he had once been, but he still enjoyed our dinner and discussion. He never once seemed upset that I was leaving the city and would no longer be able to help his club. Instead he was so happy for me and said he would think about me enjoying frozen drinks on the beach. This was just about 1 year ago now. It was sad to leave Stuart, Sandy, the club and my friends, but things were not working out at the school as I had hoped so I felt like I had no choice but to move on.

For awhile I contemplated trying to take over his club full time and see if I could make a go of it, but living in Victoria without a base salary and with 6 years of student loans to pay back was more than I could handle. Now I can't help but think I should have tried to do more. But this post isn't about me, it's meant to be my tribute to Stuart Dixon. I had the pleasure of getting to know him really well over the course of 8 years and I will always treasure that time. I know he has made name a better person and also a better coach too. These are attributes that I hope I will be able to pass on to others one day too thanks to Stuart.

So from the bottom of my heart, I just want to thank you one more time, Stuart. You welcomed me into your family just like you did for so many others. You made me feel special and you lived each day with an unwavering zest for life. Even when your health was deteriorating you always had a smile and you were more interested in how everyone else was going. Even though the club was struggling you'd still offer to buy me a coffee. You were one of the most unselfish people I've ever met and even though you are gone your impact is still felt through everyone you've touched. Rest in peace, Stuart and thank you for all that you have done and continue to do.

That's all for this week. If you knew Stuart I'm sure everything I said rings true and brings back a lot of great memories. If you don't know him hopefully I helped you get to know a bit more about a really special soul.

I'm still working on lots of home videos during isolation. You can follow along on Instagram @SeriousSquash or Youtube.com/SeriousSquash or Facebook.com/SeriousSquash I'm also posting mostly workout videos these days to Squash Shots. It's almost a year in now. You can learn more at Patreon.com/SeriousSquash and the online store is still open for business and has 3 instructional films, video analysis and Serious Squash signature racquets for sale: SeriousSquashShop.com

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