Thursday, May 16, 2013

Alumni Profiles Edition:
We're fortunate to have a few Squash Aumni contribute their stories about life since Harvard and the impact that their squash experience had on them:

Ben Heckscher – 1957

One has to go back over 50 years to discuss my squash career.  I attended the Choate School from 1950-1953 and they just happened to have 17 squash courts. While winning two national interscholastic championships my junior and senior years, I received a four page hand written letter from Jack Barnaby telling me all the advantages of coming to Harvard. I couldn't believe I was being recruited, and in longhand no less. At that time, I had applied to Amherst and was ready to go. They had no chance once Jack contacted me. I even was accepted early at Harvard as Amherst needed an answer when early admissions did not exist. I did not know this at the time but coming to Harvard and being coached by Jack Barnaby and Corey Wynn set up my whole life.  Having such great coaches was also the main reason for my achievements in squash. In those days Harvard had two teams in the Boston A League and our top 10 players got invaluable experience playing against many older players who were tough as nails... as well as Henri Salaun.  I managed to win two National Intercollegiate titles as well as being the first college player to play in the U.S. Open in 1956. Of course, I lost to Azam Khan in the first round.

After graduation in 1957, I went into the Army for two years. They asked what squash was when I asked for time off to play tournaments.  Once they understood I would represent the U.S. Army as a Lieutenant, they let me play. I not only won my first U.S. nationals at Hemingway but I met my future wife in Montreal. That period between 1958 and 1963 when I won my second nationals in Detroit featured many highlights. My competition was fierce, with Mateer and Salaun winning seven nationals to my two over nine years. Of course there was Smith Chapman from Canada, Victor Niederhoffer, Sam Howe, Charlie Ufford and four Khans. I never beat a Khan but managed to win my share.

As I think about Harvard then and today, the values of balancing academics and sports are paramount in developing ones in life. I majored in European History, played tennis and squash and listened to Jack as he kept us on the straight and narrow. I even beat him at hearts on those long tennis trips. I love coming back to Harvard and feeling the intellectual atmosphere in Harvard Square. My business career was 31 years with Scott Paper Company, mostly in marketing. I strategically led most of the consumer bath tissue business in the United States...including Scottissue, which represented over 20% of the company's worldwide profits. I currently am a marketing consultant with small to medium size companies. Continuing to work part time keeps my mind and body energized which, of course, has positive health implications at 77. Finally, I must say that between 1965 and 2003, I completely quit squash to play golf, tennis and paddle. A friend talked me into playing hardball doubles instead of paddle and the last nine years have a dozen of us in their 60's and 70's having a great slow motion of course. Squash is a game to play forever.

Darius Pandole - 1988

Entering Harvard as a freshman in the fall of 1984 was truly a life changing experience for me. From meeting my freshman roommates at Wigglesworth Hall to attending Economics 10 to working dorm crew to participating in the Varsity squash program, I had to adapt to a completely new environment.

Of all the wonderful facets of life at Harvard, the most important and memorable for me was being a part of four Harvard varsity squash teams – all four of which were inter-collegiate championship winning teams! Squash to me was an anchor during my college years. It gave me many friends to play and train with on a daily basis. I grew under the tutelage of Coach Dave Fish (whom I consider to be amongst the best teachers I had at Harvard) and through interaction with all of the terrific teammates that made up these teams: Russ Ball, Jack Polsky, Jack Colbourne, Joe Dowling, Greg Lee, Dave Segal, Pete Dinneen, the Jernigan brothers, the Iselin brothers, the Masland brothers, John Schwartz, Doug Lifford, to name a few.

In those days, Americans played with the hardball, which was very different from the softball game that I grew up playing. Initially, I was confounded by the stark differences between the games and it took a while to adjust. Also, the calibre and quality of the Harvard squash program was extremely high and even though I was the Indian junior national champion, I had to play relatively lower on the order for most of my freshman year, until I was able to absorb the intricacies of the hardball game. I was thrilled about being a part of four inter-collegiate winning teams and being selected All-American. Other highlights for me included winning various amateur tournaments such as the John Jacobs (my first tournament win during my freshman year at 18-17 in the fifth game of the finals), the Cowles Invitational, the Gold Racquets, the William White and the US National Softball Championships.

After graduation in 1988, I played squash full time for a year until a back injury effectively ensured that I would not play competitively again. After completing my MBA at the University of Chicago (class of 1992), I returned to India to get involved in our family business of manufacturing soft drinks. We subsequently sold this business to PepsiCo. Thereafter, I was one of the early entrants into the private equity industry in India nearly two decades ago and am fortunate to be working in a continually evolving and exciting sector in a high growth market like India.  Since it’s inception five years ago, I have been a partner at New Silk Route, an India-focused private equity fund management business.

My wife Anahita is a practicing gynecologist in Mumbai and we are celebrating 20 years of marriage this year. We have two sons, Yohan and Rian, through whom I vicariously keep experiencing the thrill of competitive sports. Yohan, my elder son, is the Indian national squash champion under-15. Rian, my younger son, is a nationally ranked junior tennis player in India. Thankfully, they have their own set of talented coaches to guide them as they certainly don’t want to take advice from me!

As I look forward to the 25th anniversary of the class of 1988 (cannot believe how time has flown by!), I vividly remember the many great friends and the rich memories that Harvard provided me. Every time I look back at this phase in my life, I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to study at Harvard and be a part of the squash fraternity there.

Charlene Neo - 2010

I'm Charlene Neo and I hail from sunny Singapore. I graduated Harvard in 2010, majoring in Economics with a minor in East Asian Studies. Upon graduation, I left Cambridge for New York City, and have been here ever since. During the day, I work as an investment analyst at a long-short equity hedge fund called Firefly Value Partners, and focus on dissecting various industries and businesses. Aside from my day job, I mostly moonlight as a wannabe (washed-up) squash player, playing in both the men's and women's leagues for (you guessed it!) The Harvard Club of NYC.  Squash has indisputably helped me settle in NYC faster than I had imagined possible. During the week, the Harvard Club is a place for me to catch up with a steady (and growing) group of Harvard Squash alumni ranging for the strong stalwarts of the program such as Jay Nelson, who I remember, absolutely crushed me when I was visiting the club as a sophomore at a Harvard Squash alumni event. Up until today, I still haven't had the courage to set up a re-match with Jay because he's so fit and strong! Along with Jay, I'm usually playing with Ned Reeves, Hanna Snyder, Michael Jaffe, Vikas Goela, Audrey Duboc, Lydia Williams, Reed Endressen, Nirasha Guruge.  The list expands during the summer when visiting team players come into the city.  I always tell people that the Harvard Squash community lives on in NYC. Under the watchful eye of Richard Chin, we help each other to keep fit, enjoy the game beyond college, and work off the stress that all of us invariably face during the day-to-day. 

Being a part of FoHS has truly helped me in my professional career as well. Over the years, I have had invaluable guidance from alumni such as Richard Sterne, Hope Prockop, Bill Kaplan, Christopher Gabrieli, Mark Panarese - all of whom have been so kind and generous in sharing their experiences with me. I am always grateful towards everyone whom I've met through Harvard Squash and I can only hope to be able to pay such kindness forward. In the city, I try to also help out with two after-school urban programs, CitySquash and StreetSquash.  Both were founded and are run by Harvard alumni, Tim Wyant and George Polsky. They are transforming the lives of many children around NYC. I feel fortunate to be a part of their organizations, but mostly enjoy the ability to say, "Hey! They played squash for Harvard, too!"

Before I really start to bore you, I'd like to also say a big "Thank You" to all of you who have made Harvard Squash the legacy that it is today. All of your hard work and efforts have helped to build a strong, stable and continuously growing community. As I like to tell my fellow alumni and current team members, "You may have graduated from the Harvard Squash program, but one can never take Harvard squash out of you". I am excited to follow the legacy of Harvard Squash throughout the season, and I hope that we will continue to dominate the squash scene under the tutelage of Mike Way and his stellar team over at the Murr Center. Go Crimson!

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