‘Seize every opportunity that comes your way and enjoy it’ - Teenage Irish squash player Lydia McQuillan

Gail Bell asks experts and people in the public eye what keeps them going. This week: High-ranking Irish squash player Lydia McQuillan from Lisburn

Lydia McQuillan playing squash
Lydia McQuillan juggles representing Ireland at squash with her school studies... and keeping up her Mary Berry baking skills
1. Up and at it - what is your morning routine?

As I am still at school, I usually get up early - around 7am. I get washed, changed, and make breakfast. I walk to school, so I am out the door just after eight o’clock. I enjoy the fresh air before a busy day filled with learning and training.

2. What might you eat in a typical working day for…

Breakfast? My go-to is Weetabix, fruit and yoghurt… it’s my favourite. I could eat this every day.

Lunch? I would usually take a packed lunch to school - either a sandwich or a salad.

Evening meal? It usually depends on what we are having as a family. We like trying different things together and sitting down as a family to chat about our day. Of course, on nights that I train, we would usually make something quick, easy and nutritious.

3. Is nutrition important to you - do you take health supplements?

Nutrition is very important to me. If I don’t fuel my body properly, my training suffers, but fuelling for recovery is equally important. I take vitamins every morning and while training I put electrolyte tablets into my drink to replace lost salts.

4. Ever been on a diet - if so, how did it go?

I have never been on a diet. My motto is to just try my best to eat good, healthy food - but still enjoy occasional treats.

5. Weekend treat?

I enjoy going for an ice cream at the weekend with friends or my family and I love chocolate pretzels - delicious.

6. How do you keep physically and mentally fit?

I am very active. Not only do I play squash, I run regularly and also go to the gym to ensure my fitness is at a high level so I can continue to represent Ireland at international level. Mentally, I enjoy getting outside – including my commute to school in the mornings – and I like reading or running to a good playlist.

7. Best tip for everyday fitness?

For me, the easiest way to keep active is to get yourself into a routine. By designating a set time in the day when you want to exercise, you can always ensure that nothing else gets in the way. Even opting to walk or cycle rather than getting into a lift or driving (if possible) can be a great way to keep active.

8. Were you a fan of school sports/PE or do you have a memory from those days that you would rather forget?

I am currently in school, so ‘those days’ are today... PE is one of my favourite things about school and I have participated in many school teams such as hockey, netball, and, of course, the squash team. I also took PE for my GCSEs and AS Levels and really enjoyed it.

9. Teetotal or tipple?

As I am still under the age limit for alcohol, so it is teetotal for me.

10. Stairs or lift?

Stairs - it’s just an easy way and a great example of how to keep yourself active in everyday life without actually committing time to exercise. These small steps go a long way to keeping yourself fit and healthy.

Since lockdown, I have kept the baking up and I see myself as the next Mary Berry. Believe it or not, the numerous lockdown bakes were a success

11. What book are you currently reading?

I love reading. I have just finished a book called Do No Harm by Jack Jordan and I would highly recommend it to anyone into thrillers.

12. Best Netflix/streaming TV?

That’s a hard one. I would say it would have to be between The Office, Stranger Things or Schitt’s Creek. I love sci-fi and comedies.

13. Any new skills or hobbies?

Since lockdown, I have kept the baking up and I see myself as the next Mary Berry. Believe it or not, the numerous lockdown bakes were a success. On the other hand, I found I was not very good at Uno.

14. How do you relax?

After a day of school and training, I love coming home, getting ready for bed and lying up reading a good book.

15. What would you tell your younger self?

Seize every opportunity that comes your way and enjoy it.

16. What are your goals for 2024?

I want to keep progressing my squash game and keep working to get better as the season goes on. This season I moved up an age group and I have finished number two in Ireland. I have been selected to compete in the European Individual and Team Championships in Bucharest, Romania, which I am very excited about.

17. What time do you get to bed and do you think you get enough sleep?

On school nights, I usually go to bed around 11pm - some nights maybe later. I think I get a decent amount of sleep (my full eight hours) but it could be better - with training and homework in the evenings, it can be difficult to get to bed any earlier.

18. Biggest gripe or regret?

I have no regrets to date and hopefully none in the future.

19. Have your priorities in life or perspectives changed?

Yes - as I have grown older, my priorities have changed due to school and exams, but also within my sport, as I play at a competitive level now. I finished the last season ranking number one in Ireland and got the opportunity to travel with the Irish teams to the world championships in Melbourne over the summer.

20. Has coronavirus – or any health epiphany or life event - changed your attitude towards your own mortality?

I think coronavirus has taught me that you have to make the most of every opportunity that comes your way and just embrace it.

Lydia McQuillan is one of 10 young athletes from across Northern Ireland selected to receive a bursary this year from The Mary Peters Trust and Hughes Insurance