EYES ON THE BALL Donna Ryder from Newport is one of Ireland’s best racquetballers.
One of Ireland’s top stars is missing the sport she loves
FOR sixteen years Donna Ryder from Newport never spent more than a fortnight away from a racquetball court.
Twelve months into the Covid-19 pandemic, the former European champion is missing the thrill of the sport more than ever.
Having started out as at the age of 14, the 30-year-old has gone on to establish herself as one of the top female racquetball players in the world.
Not being able to compete for such an extended length of time — and maybe not for a long time to come — has been very tough on her.
“It’s horrible. When you play sport it really becomes part of your identity… I hate it, I find it so tough, especially the fact that you can’t get to a gym,” she tells The Mayo News.
“Whatever about outdoor sports, I’d say it’ll be well into the end of the summer before you’ll see anything coming back [indoors].
“I hope I’m wrong, I’d love to be back. For your health, any time anything has been bothering me in life you go down to the racquetball alley, you have a few belts around, even if it’s on your own, you come away feeling so much better and clearer.”
Like handball alleys, most racquetball courts have remained closed for over a year since the pandemic first struck.
While unable to do any racquetball training, being able to play Gaelic football with the Westport ladies that reached a County Junior final last year ‘came at the right time’ for Donna.
“As soon as Gaelic went back, I saw such a difference in my mood. It changed completely because there was that little bit of socialising, you’re seeing friends, you’re seeing team-mates and you’re being active,” she explained.
“It’s so important that people do get that bit of activity back in their lives. I would love to see indoor sports come back, it would do so much for people, even if you’re by yourself.
“If I didn’t have football last year… I don’t know how some people coped,” she continued.
“It’s definitely put a strain on people’s mental health and, going forward, it’s going to be something that’s on people’s minds and it’s going to affect them big time. Anyone that was mad into gym work and had it all taken away from them, it’s tough.”
Donna also witnessed first-hand what the return to collective exercise did for her team-mates.
“You saw it in your first training session that people who were normally really loud had become really quiet and gone into their shells. By the third session they were flying it again. “They just needed that something. I don’t think the government are thinking of these things.”
Even if racquetball courts reopen before the end of the year, Donna reckons that it will be even longer before she is fit and sharp enough to compete at a major tournament.
“You should really have been back in training getting ready… because it’s six to eight months [to] getting ready for World Championships.
“You’re training all along, but you’d want to be training six months just so you’re peaking at the right time,” she added.
“It’s not a nice feeling going to a competition that you feel you’re not really prepared for.”