Kiwi squash star King and pro players Tesni Evans (Wales), Tim Brownell (US) and Kaitlyn Watts (NZ) spent time with about 40 students, putting them through their paces during a skills and drills session on the eve of the festival, which begins on December 5.
King has withdrawn from the Barfoot and Thompson Women’s New Zealand Open after struggling with a back injury for the past six weeks.
Winner of the 2022 NZ Women’s Open in Tauranga, King told the Bay of Plenty Times she was disappointed to pull have to out of one of her favourite tournaments.
“I don’t think anyone really understands how I’m feeling right now. "
She said disc problems “were no fun” and her recovery was going to be a long process.
“It’s eight to 12 weeks of rehab time for this kind of injury and being a bit older, it doesn’t help matters.”
However, King said she felt “very lucky’” to be back in New Zealand, where she was well supported during her recovery.
“I feel like there’s no better place for me to be giving it a go to rehab this injury.
“As disappointed as I am, I’m seeing so many positives.
“Even to be there as a spectator and as a fan, to watch and experience it in a very different light, and ... actually talking to some of the kids and people more than I would if I was playing,” she said.
A chirpy King said spending time with the Tauranga Intermediate students was part of giving back to all the people who came along and to help inspire the next generation of players.
“That’s part of my job, and what I owe to the sport, to these kids and the people of New Zealand, by showing up and making these kids excited about the sport and encouraging them to come along and watch,” she said.
“ I just hope we have some really great matches that people can enjoy and watch ... Come and have a look, see for yourself what these players do and I’ll be there and come and find me for a chat.”
Student Tom Crisp, 13, said it was “pretty special” to have top athletes visit the school and spend time with him and fellow students.
“You don’t often get the opportunity to see some of the world’s best so you can never really say no to an opportunity like this.”
Crisp said this was his first year playing squash and he had started in term one.
“It’s been really fun actually ... I think I’m doing quite well at the moment.”
Crisp said he hoped to get along to the Mercury Baypark Arena to watch the WSF men’s world teams championships players.
He said his favourite Kiwi player was Paul Coll, ranked number 4 in the world. Coll has just won the 2023 Hong Kong Open.
“He’s really someone that inspires me in terms of squash and what he’s achieved in the last years. He’s someone who I love to watch as well.”
Last year’s Festival of Squash attracted 1254 visitors, including 92 international guests, and generated $621,450 worth of visitor experience in the region.