Glasgow 2014: Gillen-Buchert doing it for dad

Frania Gillen-Buchert is Scottish to the core when she gets on the squash court. Picture: JP
Frania Gillen-Buchert is Scottish to the core when she gets on the squash court. Picture: JP
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IT WAS her Kenyan mother Diana who got her involved in squash but it was her Scottish father Eddie who insisted that Capetown-born Frania Gillen-Buchert would represent his homeland.

She took up the sport as a five-year-old, having gone along to one of her mother’s coaching sessions, but, even throughout the spells spent living in South Africa and England, she has always stayed loyal to the Saltire.

“He had two things, I had to play for Scotland and be a Catholic – I did both,” says the 32-year-old, who is preparing for her third Commonwealth Games as a member of Team Scotland. “Anything to make him happy.”

If she can win a medal this summer it would make her father ecstatic but he won’t be in Glasgow to witness it.

“I’m doing this for him but sadly he’s not able to come because he’s not well. He’ll watch me on TV from South Africa. Thankfully there will be really good coverage of the Games over there.

“He’s in remission right now but he’s got terminal cancer and could pass away soon. He’s been ill for four years, he’s had a couple of strokes and the doctors keep saying he’s got six months to go. But four years later he’s still here – he must want to see me compete in Glasgow!”

Her dad’s diagnosis coincided with her decision to retire at the end of the Delhi games, where Gillen-Buchert made it as far as the quarter-finals in the mixed doubles with the same man she will partner in Glasgow, Alan Clyne.

At that stage she just wanted more from life. Squash remained a big part of it. She still attended training sessions and stayed fit but life was less regimented, more varied and, well, normal, she explains with a laugh.

“I competed in Delhi and, after that, I said I was going to retire. And I did – I took a year out of competitive squash. Athletes will tell you, you don’t see your friends, you don’t go to festivals, you can’t drink, you miss weddings, stag dos and hen parties.

“These are important events with your friends and families – personally I missed three weddings in the build-up to Delhi and I really regret that.

“So four of my friends had got engaged and they got married that year and I decided to just lead a normal life. I was able to eat what I like, have two pies instead of one – there was no pressure.

“I’ve played for 27 years and that was the first time I actually had a break and didn’t play. I maintained my fitness, which was important so when the carrot was dangled in front of me with Glasgow 2014, it was very tempting.

“I have unfinished business from Delhi because we were close and we lost to a pair that we’d actually beaten before and the circumstances are different now, and I thought ‘why not’?

“I was still training every day and they couldn’t really get rid of me – so I decided to go for it. That year off really helped me, it was the best thing ever.”

Less jaded and with renewed enthusiasm, Gillen-Buchert is embroiled in what she states will definitely be her final Commonwealth Games adventure. This time there will be no U-turn, she says, before teasing with the fact that the Gold Coast [the venue of the 2018 Games] would be a nice place to visit! But, if this is to be her last hurrah, she wants to make sure she goes out on a high and she appreciates the chance to do that in front of a passionately patriotic crowd, at a home games.

“What does a Scottish Commonwealth Games mean to me? Well, my Scottish dad Eddie will kill me if I don’t say the right thing! I’ve been living here for many years, it’s the country where I’ve spent most of my life. I might have a different accent but my family are so proud of me and I’m taking some of them to visit the Games village.

“This is my home and it always has been. Edinburgh is my home city and I’ve been playing squash for Scotland since I was 12 years old.”

One of the first athletes to be named as part of Team Scotland back in September, Gillen-Buchert will play the mixed doubles with Clyne and the women’s doubles with Alex Clark and is a realistic medal contender. This will be her first Games with Clark but has the experience of Delhi to build on in the mixed.

“It would be fantastic to win a medal at the Games, especially for my dad. He’d be so proud but it would be for everyone who has helped me. I think I’m our sports psychologist’s longest-serving customer! Everyone has fought some battles and I have to thank a lot of people for supporting me. It would also be a nice way to end my career. It would be the pinnacle.

“My family are a big support mechanism. I regularly cry on the phone to my mum but she just says ‘Frania, get a grip, it’s only six months, so get on with it’! My boyfriend Stuart has also been fantastic. He’s put all his holidays on hold waiting for me to finish the Games, so I’m lucky.

“Of course, you get down days and it can be stressful. A couple of weeks ago, things were getting on top of me a bit but you have to bounce back quickly. With doubles, you go to the sports psychologist and it’s like relationship counselling. We’ve already started those sessions and a lot of it is down to communication.”

Mentally bruising, the sport’s physical wounds of war on the court are something she expects.

“No doubt, there will be injuries along the way. It’s the nature of doubles that there are a lot of accidental hits. There will be some cracking bruises along the way. The women get picked out as the weak link. I’m not as strong as the man and I’ll probably have 20 shots to his two, that’ll be the ratio. But I give as good as I get, that’s why squash suits me quite well.”

There will be a nation hoping that delivers a medal. For one man sitting in front of his television back in Capetown, simply the fact Gillen-Buchert is there, representing Scotland and that he is still around to see it, will be enough.