NEW YORK - On December 19, 2012, the World Squash Federation went before the International Olympic Committee in Lausanne, Switzerland to present its case for the inclusion of squash in the 2020 Olympic Games. The presenting committee featured the WSF President N Ramachandran, WSF Chief Executive Andrew Shelly, the No. 1 ranked men's player in the world James Willstrop and Columbia first-year women's player Reyna Pacheco.
Pacheco is the product of an urban squash program similar to the one that the Columbia squash programs volunteer with at its home facility, the SL Green StreetSquash Center in Harlem. While the initial three presenters of the WSF contingent were there to inform the IOC of the global reach of squash and the technical aspects of the game, Pacheco provided a human and emotional element to show the impact squash can have on an individual's life.
"My role was to show what squash has meant to my life," said Pacheco. "If you look at Olympians, their stories are very impactful in the way their sport made it into their lives and we wanted to show that squash is real and that it is touching a lot of lives."
An immigrant from Mexico, Pacheco's discovery of squash proved to be a defining moment in her life.
"I came to the United States with my mom and my brother when I was four years old and I think that was hard because we were here knowing that we could be kicked out any day," said Pacheco. "A lot of immigrants, especially students, don't feel like they can make it very far because they don't have the documents to apply for scholarships or school. Because of that I didn't feel like I could dream very far. I felt like I was limited, but when I was introduced to squash that completely changed my life."
Squash was introduced to Pacheco in her early teenage years when a former Ivy League squash program director left his position to develop an urban squash program in San Diego, Calif. At a time when she was struggling in school and just the thought of attending college was daunting, squash entered her life and gave Pacheco an avenue to pursue something she enjoyed with a new drive.
"I didn't understand how people could ask me to believe in something four years from now when I was struggling to live everyday. For me, the fact that someone would believe in me and say that you have the ability to do this led me to try out. When I got into the program, I just fell in love with everything about squash. It taught me things I couldn't learn in a classroom: respect, commitment, dedication and hard work," commented Pacheco.
With her new dedication to squash spilling into success in school, Pacheco and her family began the process to gain documentation, which led to her applying to both Columbia and the Bill Gates Millennium Scholars Program.
"I was sitting down with lawyers, the same time I was sitting down to do my college applications," said Pacheco.
With the necessary paperwork now in hand and her applications complete, Pacheco received word soon after that she not only garnered acceptance into Columbia, but was also a recipient of the Gates Millennium Scholarship which provides a good-through-graduation scholarship.
"I just feel so lucky everyday of my life and I feel so blessed to have the opportunity to be here," said Pacheco of her time at Columbia.
Seeing that her hard work has paid off and wanting to give back, Pacheco continues to volunteer in the squash community. "Our team here volunteers every week [at StreetSquash] and I keep in touch as much as I can with the kids in San Diego."
As one of the top recruits out of an urban squash program, Pacheco has also made an instant impact on the court for Columbia as a first-year, playing as the primary No. 2 this season. The Lions have played to an early 3-4 record with Pacheco going 4-3 as an individual.
The squash community will continue its goal of adding its sport to the 2020 Olympic Games in the following months. In May, a second meeting with the IOC will commence to specific the technical aspects of the sport and the final decision will come down in the fall of 2013.
"It was such a unique experience," commented Pacheco on the trip to Switzerland. "The whole experience behind it and meeting all the people behind the whole movement, the president of the World Squash Federation, the CEO and the world No. 1 now, it was very impressive to be a part of that committee and to present to the Olympic Committee."