Twelve-year-old schoolgirl Khaaliqa Nimji, who beat her mother to qualify for the Kenyan squash team, can concentrate fully on her homework now that her Commonwealth Games adventure has ended.
Nimji was granted time off school to become the youngest athlete at the Games but her teachers made sure she did not fall behind by sending her some work to do while she was in Delhi to compete in the singles, mixed and women’s doubles events.
“I’m working in the evenings, textbook work stuff and reading,” the youngster said on Monday.
Weighing 30kg and 1.39m tall it is easy to overlook Nimji amongst the tall and physical squash players at the Siri Fort Sports Complex.
Softly spoken, she does not give off the impression of a ruthless competitor. However, when it came down to a match with her mother during the Kenyan trials for the Games, her competitive side was apparent.
“I had to play my mum, which was tough,” Nimji said, with a coy smile. “That was very hard, but I managed to beat her and I made it to the team and I was hoping she would too but unfortunately she didn’t.”
For Nimji, flanked by her proud mother and coach, losing every match in Delhi is of no concern.
The enthusiasm and excitement in her voice as she answered questions demonstrated that just being at the Games and competing against the likes of world No. 1 Nicol David was for her, like winning a gold medal.
“It is very exciting and it’s a lot of fun,” Nimji said, her eyes lighting up. “It is just the beginning for me and big tournaments and I have a long way to go and I’m just having fun.”
The mixed event is particularly tough for inexperienced players. The common tactic is for the traditionally stronger male players to target their female opponents with heavy shots.
“I found that quite difficult, when I see them [the men] play singles they hit really hard but when I play them in mix they don’t hit it so hard to me, so yes,” she said when asked if she thought the opposition had gone easy on her.
One of the men Nimji faced in Delhi, Malaysian Ong Beng Hee, conveyed the same message after he and David beat the schoolgirl and her partner Hardeep Reel in the mixed doubles on Sunday.
“When you’ve got a 12-year-old on court, it’s hard to attack her,” he explained.
Despite the tough competition, Nimji said she had thoroughly enjoyed her time in India but was looking forward to going home and seeing her friends.
“The village is amazing,” she said with excitement. “It is more than I expected. They look after you so well, but sometimes it gets a bit boring having the same food every day.”
“All my friends call me every night just telling me about school. It is a lot of fun being here, but I also miss school,” she said.
Nimji took up squash aged just four.
“I am very proud indeed,” her mother, Salima, said. “For us it is very good that she has made it to the Commonwealths at this age, we are not really expecting anything but this is for her a great experience.”
“I beat everybody except her,” Salima said in reference to the trials. “No [I didn’t go easy on her], some how she plays very well against me. Her skills are better than mine.”
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