Squash Players Serve: Dawn Gray

Squash players around the country are doing their part to help during this time, and US Squash will recognize these champions each week in an ongoing “Squash Players Serve” series. Submit a short video or story or tag us @USSquash on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook, to share your stories of squash players supporting the community during the pandemic.

Emergency rooms always have an unknown element of what could come through the hospital doors. Dawn Gray, an ER nurse, and her team at Paoli Hospital west of Philadelphia have been navigating new challenges while continuing to serve the wide array of cases that can come into an emergency room.

Like most areas of the medical field, ER’s have been forced to adapt to the new dangers that COVID-19 presents to both patients and staff. While there have been many unknowns, Gray is proud of how her team have risen to the challenge. Gray serves as a coordinator in charge of running ER nurse shifts and typically works two twelve hour shifts a week. At times over the past two months has picked up a third shift to help support the department.

“I work on a great team,” Gray said. “Everybody here works really well together and we rise to the difficulty and the level that we need to and we have great support from our leadership. ER nurses are a unique breed. We like constant change and we like the challenge of it and the uncertainty. This has had an extra twist to it because you don’t know how many or how sick could come in at any time. The added stress has been the unknowns and what ifs. We’ve fortunately been fine supply-wise. It’s more so just been the ‘what is going to come in today.’ In an ER, that can hit you on any day and some shifts are much more difficult than other in terms of volume. We’re going in there knowing every day is potentially the next worst day and that’s what I think has been most difficult.”

Gray has always leaned on squash as a source of stress relief when she’s not in the ER. Gray picked up squash as a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania where she began her nursing studies. Currently based at Berwyn Squash & Fitness, Gray won the National Doubles open title in 1993 with Joanne Law and has recently captured two national 50+ titles in 2017 and 2019 with Amy Milanek.

“It was already a very hard and stressful environment to work in before this, and I’ve always coped with squash. In fact, sometimes my husband will tell me ‘you need to go hit the little ball,'” Gray joked. “It has been a challenge not having that in my routine over the past few months. It’s a big part of my job to say ‘hey, make sure you’re taking care of yourself when you go home’ or ‘if you need to talk, know that we all deal with things in our own way.’ This is not a sprint, this is a marathon. My personal approach is framing it as ‘ we’re not playing softball in the new way where you get a point on every serve, we’re back to the old way where you have to serve to win the point.'”

While the pandemic has presented many challenges, Gray looks forward to getting through to the other side of it and encourages the squash community to take advantage of the spring weather and outdoors.

“Imagine you’re in the fifth game and just hang in there, be ready for the long rallies and persevere, but know we’ll definitely get on the other side of this,” Gray said. “I know we’re all looking forward to getting back on court. A lot of people I play with have their weekly zoom meetings to stay in touch and check up on each other. We’ve been joking that it’s going to be one ugly game of squash once we’re back on court. Be positive in how you cope with things. Get out in the dirt and sunshine. Stay active. Breathe that healthy outdoor air and get into nature. I know we’re used to being indoors on the squash court but it’s not healthy to be inside all of the time.”