For Sarah-Jane Perry, who started playing squash in a small members’ club in Birmingham, competing at this year’s Commonwealth Games was a dream come true.
The 32-year-old showed grit in a five-game thriller against New Zealand’s Joelle King, recovering from two games down to clinch a bronze medal.
She then earned a silver medal in the doubles tournament alongside Alison Waters.
Perry admitted to GiveMeSport Women that she had been aiming higher than a bronze and silver medal, but she was ultimately grateful for the experience she had at the Games.
“It was everything I’d dreamed of and more,” she said. “I had thought about it a lot before the Games, being born in Birmingham, living in the local area. I knew I had a lot of friends and family going to watch, but the amount of people I knew there was just insane.
“The crowd was also amazing. The way that it had been put on, the staging and everything, the crowd were really being encouraged to get behind us.
“I think the atmosphere in there was just next level and something I’ve definitely not experienced before, and I probably will never experience again.
“One of the things I told myself was just take it all in and enjoy it. And I really did and I’m so, so thankful that I did as well.”
🔥 It’s a Brum ting! 🥉🥈 pic.twitter.com/PmaFLocd6x— Sarah-Jane Perry (@SJPerry15) August 9, 2022
Perry was watched on by her partner Becky and five month old son Elijah, who she joked has “certainly changed my sleep schedule”.
“To be able to show him those photos and videos in a few years time is going to be incredibly special. I think it just really makes you value the time you do have to actually apply yourself to your sport, but then when you come home from training, it doesn’t matter again.
“When I come home, he’s going to smile at me if I’ve had a bad day or a good day. He doesn’t care. He’s just happy to see me.
“So, that’s super nice. I think it makes it a little bit harder to go away. But I think as long as I know I’m doing the things I should be, and being professional in my approach to my squash, then I can cope with that. Then it makes coming home all the sweeter.”
There's surely no better way to celebrate a Commonwealth medal! 🥉— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) August 3, 2022
After an gruelling match, Sarah-Jane Perry heads over to celebrate her bronze medal with her partner Becky and their baby son Elijah 🥰#BBCCWG #BBCSquash pic.twitter.com/cLBban9AXT
Currently ranked eighth in the world, Perry is able to rattle off a list of career highlights, including her first junior title at the European Championships, three British National Championships titles, and a gold medal at the World Team Championships in 2014.
She is certainly one of England’s most successful squash players of all time, and she has often been the country’s only seeded player in tournaments on the PSA World Tour.
But Perry has now been joined in the world top 10 by Georgina Kennedy, who defeated her compatriot in the Commonwealth Games semi-finals on the way to a gold medal.
“I think Gina has done really well,” Perry enthused. “She’s a fantastic athlete. I’m sure she’ll continue, it’s not going to be the highest she’s going to get to.
“We’ve got the World Team Championships coming up in December. Egypt had the better of us the last couple of editions, so we really want to be able to challenge them.
“Gina’s come into the team, as well as Jasmine Hutton and Lucy Turmel, who are both coming up the rankings as well. They’re both 22 years old, so they’re really young.
“So, it takes the pressure off me, but also means that we can really push and challenge Egypt and some of the other countries like the USA at the Championships. It’s an enjoyable prospect to have”.
If competing at the Commonwealth Games wasn’t enough for Perry, she was also keenly watching England win Euro 2022.
She praised the Lionesses for advancing gender equality in sport, revealing that she had bought tickets for an Aston Villa match in the Women’s Super League after realising she needed to be “part of the action”.
Squash is often considered to be at the forefront of gender equality in sport, although Perry admitted there was still work to be done.
“It’s definitely a sport where they’ve taken a lot of steps to bridge that gap, particularly around pay,” she explained.
“So all of our top level events on the World Tour run on the same levels as the men, with the same prize money. It’s a joint tour as well.
“There is still a gap in total prize money availability, but that’s more on the number of tournaments, which again has been bridged an awful lot.
“So, I think it’s a lot of amazing work that’s gone in, a lot of the hard work has been done, but there’s still a bit to do. I think squash is really aware of that and I’m proud to be a part of the sport where that’s not even in question, it is just something that is a priority.”
Inclusivity is also something incredibly important to Perry, who is part of the LGBTQ+ community and has spoken widely about body image issues in sport.
“To be able to believe you can be something, the easiest way for that, is to see someone else doing it, and to see someone else as close to a likeness of you as possible,” she said.
“Growing up, professional squash players weren’t that prominent in the media. But I saw other strong women doing well at sport. Serena Williams is a big idol of mine, just because she’s a massive advocate for being a strong woman, doing things her way, and bossing it.
“As well as people like Billie Jean King, who really founded the way for LGBT+ sportspeople to be true to themselves, while crushing it at the same time.”
Perry has based her own career on these values, promoting inclusivity and equality while excelling on the court. She is sure to have inspired her own generation of young athletes.
Inspired to hit the court? Whether you’re new to squash or returning to the game, your local club or leisure centre is ready to welcome you on court. Find your nearest court at www.englandsquash.com/finder.