Norway’s Andrea Fjellgaard grew up on an island with a population of just 500 people, and she now represents Norway on the global stage, as a professional on the PSA World Tour.
Lovund sits off the western coast of mainland Norway, and three ferries are needed to get to one of the smallest islands in Europe.
24-year-old Fjellgaard did not pick up a squash racket until she was 9, as there was not a court on the island of Lovund where she grew up.
“I didn’t start to play squash before I was 9 years old maybe. I started with some other sports/activity classes when I was in kindergarten, and also played football for 10 years,” she explained.
“On Lovund we had to have mixed teams, so we mostly played against boys teams from other places. It was also a great place to be active and to be out in nature where we had mountains, forests and beaches right outside our doorstep.
“As kids we could be out all day cycling in the streets, playing in the forest, look for crabs and shells on the shore or fishing.”
Lovund Squashklubb was established in 2002, but Fjellgaard admits that it took some time before it became a busy hub for the sport. She also admitted to a different style of learning the game.
“At that point, I think there were only one or two people on the island who had played or tried squash before,” the Norwegian admitted.
“After some time when people got more into it, I started to go down to the court with my mum and dad, and I loved it instantly.”
“I never had a coach or anything, so I just spent a huge amount of time on YouTube or whatever I could find to learn both technique and the sport. So that was what I had, a racket, a ball, youtube and time.”
There were still logistical issues on her path to become a professional, as most of the junior tournaments that she participated in were in Oslo, situated 650 miles south of Lovund.
For Fjellgaard to participate in those events, she would either have to take a five hour boat ride followed by a two hour flight, or go by boat, bus and train, with the latter being 15 hours on the train alone.
Now, though, the state of squash in Norway has never been better, and is continuously growing.
“We have more players, more clubs and new courts. We are also working on competence and education and we are definitely moving in the right direction,” she explained.
“Compared to when I played as a junior, most tournaments and squads were in Oslo. Now we have regional squads, and national cups and tournaments from south to north, west to east, which is great to see. We still have a way to go, but are moving in the right direction!”
In the early part of 2018, Fjellgaard feared the worst, as she started to lose feeling down the right side of her body. She was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, a chronic autoimmune disease, a month later.
Thankfully, the Norwegian started to get the feeling back in her right foot and right arm after four months of treatment, but that was not the only injury issue she has had to deal with over the last few years.
While she was dealing with the multiple sclerosis diagnosis, Fjellgaard was still in the process of recovering from her hip coming out of joint just a couple of months previous. A year later, and the same issue occurred with her other hip, but she was able to return to the court just six months later.
She finally took part in her first tournament on the PSA World Tour in November 2019, at the Capra Baerum Open. The event took place in Norway, and although Fjellgaard lost out in the first round, she admits it was a “great experience”.
“The last 2-3 years I have struggled a lot with a couple of big injuries and illness, so I had to start at the bottom a couple of times with playing the Satellite Tour to get my rankings up,” she explained.
“When I got injury free and declared ‘good to go’ last summer, I decided to take a year just to focus on my squash. I started the season playing the Satellite Tour, and when I got the opportunity to play the Capra Baerum Open it was such a big moment and a great confirmation that I had been doing things right.
“It was a great experience to be a part of, and get to play my first professional tournament on home soil was a proud moment. All credit to the Bærum Squashklubb, the sponsors and the federation who made that happen, as it was the first big tournament in Norway for years.”
After coming through so much to even make it to her first tournament on the PSA World Tour, Fjellgaard is only looking up for when the Tour restarts.
“Well, considering I got this far with my background and prerequisites I think that the sky’s the limit,” she said.
“I believe that I can play on the PSA World Tour. I believe that I can play in the World Championships and I believe that I can make it to the top.
“And with that in mind, with the right team and partners and last but not least the joy of the sport and the work that has to be done – I think I can go as far as I want to!”
Despite having moved to Oslo to pursue the dream of being a professional squash player, the 24-year-old has not forgotten her roots, and often goes back to Lovund.
Fjellgaard travels back to work with the juniors at her home club, and she is full of pride to have come from such a small island, to now be one of just three Norwegians on the PSA World Tour.
“I try to get some regular trips back home to have lessons with the juniors and travel with them when I can. It means a lot to be able to inspire them to play squash and follow their dreams, whether it is big or small dreams. And I take my role as a role model with seriousness and humility,” she explained.
“I am so proud and glad to come from Lovund. To grow up in a small community with people and business community that builds you up and cheering for you all the way. I still have partners and sponsors from Lovund that have been on my team from the start and stuck there through ups and downs.”