Pride of Kaitaia exits world stage with head high
Kaitaia’s pride and joy, Shelley Kitchen, can look back on a successful top-level squash career spanning nearly two decades without regret.
The 31-year-old decided to pull the pin on international competition, after illness forced her to miss the Delhi Commonwealth Games. She had developed pleurisy from overtraining following the birth of her first child, Amalia, in February.
This year’s Women’s World Team Squash Championships in Palmerston North, which ended on Saturday, was her last campaign before embarking on a life without competitive squash.
The bubbly yet discerning Kitchen was philosophical.
“While I was pregnant I committed to competing at the Commonwealth Games and the World Teams event because I thought I could do it all… I started training again three weeks after I had Amalia and I tried everything I could to come back for the Games but I probably tried too much.”
Trying to juggle motherhood and competitive squash became too much and getting sick reinforced Kitchen’s decision to retire at the end of this year.
“I really enjoyed preparing for the teams championships and playing alongside the NZ girls, and I still love playing squash but I feel like I have achieved what I wanted to.
I trained hard, went to the right tournaments and beat some of the best players in the world. I have no regrets and have enjoyed this part of my life but I’m ready to move on.”
Kitchen is now based in Auckland with her fiance Anthony Ricketts, New Zealand Squash’s high performance manager and their baby Amalia. She set up house in Auckland after returning to New Zealand following a stint living in London, while on the world circuit.
Her overseas experiences were a far cry from her home town of Kaitaia, but Kitchen said she would not have achieved what she did during her career if it had not been for the support and camaraderie she encountered from the Far North community.
“There were 10 of us from the Kaitaia Squash Club who travelled to tournaments around the country every weekend when I first started playing.”
“We would always come last, but then we started winning. We had really good coaches at that time, Peter King and Louise Rogers, who coached us every afternoon for free. By 1997, we had three girls from Kaitaia in the New Zealand Junior side – Lara Petera, Hayley King and I and we came runners-up to England at the World Championships.”
Kaitaia will always be home to Kitchen and she is looking forward to heading north more often to visit her parents Raina and Colin (Toss) at Whatuwhiwhi.
Highlights of her career include a bronze medal in the singles at the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games, and twice reaching the quarter-finals at the World Open Squash Championships and beating the world No1 both times.
Kitchen also collected a silver medal in Melbourne with Tamsyn Leevey for the women’s doubles. The pairing also won the title at the World Doubles Squash Championships earlier that year, and in 2004, Kitchen and Glen Williams finished runner-up in the mixed doubles at the World Doubles Squash Championships. In 2008, she reached her highest world ranking of sixth.
Her biggest influences – apart from her parents – were fellow Kiwi squash players and former World No1s, Susan Devoy and Leilani Rorani (nee Joyce).
“I used to come home from school and watch all of Susan’s matches on video, unfortunately I never got to play her as she had just retired. And obviously Leilani was a huge influence. We learnt a lot off each other when we played each other – and while I never beat her, we had some great matches.”
Looking back, Kitchen deservedly feels proud of her achievements but her priorities have changed these days, and she is excited about pouring her time into motherhood, with the possibility of having more children, high on the “to-do” list.
She also plans to study primary school level education by correspondence, and will likely pop up somewhere in the coaching/administration side of squash in the near future.
Squash was her passion for so many years and it is hard to leave it completely behind … but it would be nice to put her feet up.
Kitchen ended her career on a high note, winning all five of her matches at the Women’s World Team Squash Championships. However, it was a disappointing end for the fifth seeded Kiwis, who lost the third place playoff 2-1 to fourth seed Malaysia.