Twice-crowned Junior and Senior Sportswoman of the Year
Fernandes says hard work has been recognised By Isaiah Chappelle
Guyana Chronicle
January 24, 2002

ALL the hard work has been recognised. It’s a sweet feeling, because not every time hard work is recognised or appreciated,” says twice-crowned Junior and Senior Sportswoman of the Year, Nicolette Mary-Lou Fernandes.

With the prestigious award, a childhood dream came true for the 18-year-old local squash queen, but while she eyes a professional career in the sport, she prepares to pursue work as an environmentalist.

Some 12 years ago, six-year-old Nicolette followed her brothers onto the squash court, eventually developing a deep love for the sport, but the road to national recognition was a gradual process.

“My eldest brother basically took me in hand and trained me. Then fortunately an English coach came here and he skyrocketed my play,” Fernandes said.

Similarly, Nicolette ventured onto the basketball court, following her brothers, and became good enough to represent Guyana in the 1998 Inter-Guiana Games in Suriname. She also tries her hand at hockey and any racquet game.

While she does not pursue the others seriously, it was for squash that Nicolette developed an incomparable love.

“It is very challenging, mentally and physically. I like the challenges the game brings and I met a lot of nice people along the way,” Nicolette said.

She added: “I don’t get same fulfilment with other sport as I do with squash.”

Being honoured nationally for her achievements was not something she set out to do, but it was once a wish.

“I remember just playing squash and one day, Gillian Griffith a squash player, was runner-up Sportswoman of the Year, and I said how was she awarded. So I found out about it and I remember saying I would love to be like her, getting recognition on a national level,” Nicolette said.

“But I didn’t set out to get it. I honestly never thought I would have gotten it because Gillian was much older and she was in my eyes very superior in squash. It was just a childhood dream, me looking up to her and saying I want to be like her,” she added.

Nicolette began taking the game seriously when she ventured out to the Caribbean and beyond, after realising that many people played the game, unlike Guyana where the number was small.

The first national title for Nicolette was the Under-14 crown in 1993, when she was just ten years old. Two years later she won the Caribbean Under-14 title in Barbados and again in the Cayman Islands the following year.

Nicolette captured the Under-16 Caribbean crown on home court in 1997 then moved up to Under-19 the following year because she was winning fairly easily. She placed third in the Bahamas at that level.

Then in 1999, Nicolette reached the top of the Under-19 division in Trinidad & Tobago, successfully defended the crown in Bermuda the following year, and held on to it in Barbados last year.

Nicolette won her first title outside the Caribbean in 2000, entering the Canadian Pine Valley Ladies A-division tournament.

However, the young player began her North American circuit in 1998, competing in the Canadian and U.S. Union Open, placing seventh in Canada and fifth in the U.S.

The following year, Nicolette was fifth in Canada and third in the U.S., moving up one place in Canada, but dropping to fifth in the U.S., in 2000. Last year, she placed second in both countries and ended her junior years with an outing in the World Junior Ladies Championships in Malaysia.

Nicolette captured her first senior title in 1999, successfully defending it the following year, and holding on to it last year. On all three occasions she came up against Denise Jeffrey in the final.

The first national recognition for the June 19, 1983-born came when she was voted the 1999 Junior Sportswoman of Year and runner-up Senior Sportswoman. She was 16 years old.

Then last year, she achieved the ultimate - carting off both the 2000 titles, the only local sportsperson to achieve such credence. Then she repeated the feat this year for an unprecedented second time, when she won the 2001 titles.

Nicolette’s first role model was former National player Diane Lee, and now Garfield Wiltshire whom she commended for his impact on the sport and longevity, dominating in Guyana and the Caribbean.

“I would love to make a name for myself like he has made a name for himself,” Nicolette said.

The champion’s biggest down in the sport was her performance in the World Junior championships in which she did not play to her capabilities, despite putting everything into preparation.

“It was a humbling experience. I never went to such a huge event before. I think the event got to me. I think that is now one of my biggest problems. I don’t have tournament exposure, especially in the big tournaments,” Nicolette said.

But that experience made her more focused on her game, even in her fitness on court and mental approach.

Thus Nicolette achieved her greatest high in the sport, beating Carasra champion, Jamaican Merlene West, in the Bahamas last year. West beat her in the individuals final 3-0 but Nicolette conquered her in the team event 3-1. She had first played the Jamaican in 1999.

“For two years she was my goal. Just beating her was an accomplishment. I had seen her since I was a little girl. It is now an incentive for me to train and continue beating her,” Nicolette said.

In the champion’s first venture on the senior Caribbean, she reached the quarterfinals on home court in 1999 and was runner-up in 2001.

Nicolette follows a loaded training schedule. She trains six days per week, four days under Coach Carl Ince and two days with her brother Robert. Sunday is rest day.

The day starts on the court at 09:30 hrs, doing solos, just hitting the ball by herself until 12:00 hrs when she is coached for three hours. After a rest, she runs in the National Park about 17:30 hrs. She is on a diet of greens and vegetables, prescribed by Dr Mark Williams, a sports medicine doctor.

But Nicolette has run out of competition among the local female players. She raises her game by playing against the men, Garfield Wiltshire, Regan Pollard and her brother.

The champion has her sight on the professional circuit, but the chance is slim because of the expense, having to go to Europe to live. She estimates it would take about two years before she could be recognised to make money.

Nicolette goes to parties only during holidays. In the time she has for herself, the Bishops’ High School graduate buries her head in studies, preparing for the entrance examination to a U.S. university where she wants to pursue environmental studies.

“Guyana has a natural resource which people are exploiting because they are ignorant about conservation. Many Guyanese don’t know the importance of keeping it intact,” Nicolette said.