When she was just three years old, Olivia Robinson picked up a racket and began hitting balls. She never stopped.
Today, Olivia balances her responsibilities as a Class 11 student at Chapin with her remarkable athletic career. It’s a deft juggling act, to be sure, but this down-to-earth scholar-athlete wouldn’t have it any other way.
An internationally ranked squash player, Olivia has advanced quickly through the ranks of this exhilarating sport, gaining accolades in the under-11 category, then steadily capturing a host of top honors in the junior division.
In March, during the National Championships in Charlottesville, Virginia, Olivia edged out her competitor, a previously undefeated player, to win the final round – and the opportunity to represent the United States in the World Junior Squash Championships.
Olivia’s victory means that this summer, she – in addition to preparing for her senior year at Chapin – will be spending two weeks in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where the global competition is set to unfold. “It was very exciting and great to see all my hard training pay off,” she said after winning the Nationals. “Everyone was so supportive. I’ve gotten texts from people all over the world.”
Although squash has afforded Olivia the opportunity to travel widely, and resulted in a close-knit group of friends from different countries, this will be her first trip in Asia. “The nicest group of girls and guys are going!” she exclaimed.
Tennis, not squash, was Olivia’s first sport. She casually tried squash when she was nine because her older brother was already playing it. She wasn’t immediately hooked, however. “I didn’t think squash was my thing, but I ended up liking it so much,” she stated.
Because tennis and squash require different swings, Olivia had to re-learn hers after making the switch. “My coach said I looked like a tiny pterodactyl,” from years of playing tennis, she joked.
Now Olivia, who plans to play in college, couldn’t imagine playing anything but squash. “I love the friends in my sport. They are the best friend group ever,” she said, while also praising her coaches for infusing their tough training sessions with time for fun.
The fact that Olivia has excelled so impressively is all the more remarkable given the fact that nearly three years ago, she experienced, and ultimately overcame, a frightening setback that not only threatened her squash career but her life.
On a volunteer trip to Wyoming during the summer before ninth grade, Olivia inexplicably suffered a stroke, leaving her partially paralyzed on one side of her body.
“Squash was my whole life, so it was really hard,” recalled Olivia, who believes her athleticism played a vital role in helping her bounce back relatively quickly and make a complete recovery. She was told that the fact that she also speaks two languages – Spanish and English – made it easier for her brain to rebuild neural connections.
Olivia’s rehabilitation entailed many months of grueling physical therapy and tremendous reserves of determination and courage. She credits her family, especially her mother, with helping her to cope with this traumatic event and for being her tireless champion.
“My mom’s support is huge,” said Olivia. “She understands me and gives me room. I wouldn’t have found squash if it wasn’t for her. She’s the reason for everything!”
Being an elite athlete and a high school student, Olivia noted, requires her to maximize a more limited study schedule to stay on top of her assignments and to make up for classes missed while traveling to tournaments. “I had to learn to do my work in a short amount of time,” she said. “I can’t procrastinate.”
Throughout her years at Chapin, Olivia’s love of sports was developed and nurtured. When she was in the Middle School, she enjoyed participating in P.E. classes and running on the 5/6 track team. Although the time demands of squash prevented her from joining a team in Upper School, she continues to feel supported. Finding a way to join a team for her last year at Chapin is a possibility she’s not ruling out. “I would love to be a part of Chapin Athletics!” she said.
By all measures, Olivia is thriving at Chapin. She especially enjoys studying foreign languages and spending time with her classmates. “I have an incredible grade. They are truly the most caring and kindhearted group of girls.”
In July, as Olivia wields her racket on the world squash stage, some 9,000 miles from home, the entire Chapin community will be cheering on this extraordinary athlete who inspires so many, both on and off the court.