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Queen of the courts hanging up racquets

Time for Miller to focus on family, medical studies

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Manitoba's all-time court queen has hung up her racquets.

Alana Miller, a three-time national squash champion, under-16 national badminton winner and five-time Manitoba Open tennis singles champion, has decided to give up her athletic pursuits and enter the next stage of her life.

The 30-year-old has just finished her first year of medical school at the National University of Ireland and she's planning a July wedding to fiancé Will Milroy, himself a longtime member of Canada's national badminton team.

"School is too academically demanding or me to train full-time but it was also getting to the point where my injuries were holding me back and not letting me play to my best," she said.

Miller, who attained her highest international squash ranking of No. 30 in 2009, said the life of a professional squash player requires you to be on the road half the year and training twice a day.

"It sounds crazy when I say it now but you need to be working so intensely that you're resting in the afternoons. That way your training, rest and eating are all working towards the goal of getting good results. It would be impossible to do either (school or squash) well at the same time," she said.

Miller has inclement weather to thank for her introduction to squash. As an eight-year-old tennis camp participant at the old Winnipeg Canoe Club, she and the other kids would get packed into the squash and badminton courts by head pro Archie Chawla when it rained.

"I had a bit of hand-eye co-ordination and I had quite the squash serve -- the overhead slam -- which was a winner 80 per cent of the time."

Three years later, she won her first of five national junior squash titles.

In a career full of highlights, Miller said the apex may have come at the Pan Am Games in Brazil in 2007, where she won a silver in the individual tournament and a gold in the team event. Canada was seeded second behind the U.S., which was a heavy favourite after former world No. 1 Natalie Grainger became a U.S. citizen -- she was born in England -- shortly before the Games started.

Miller, playing in the No. 2 spot, defeated the higher-ranked Latasha Khan in the deciding match to capture the gold for her and teammates, Runa Reta and Winnipeg's Carolyn Russell.

"Throughout the week, people thought Canada didn't have it and it wasn't going to happen for us. Then for everything to come together like that was really, really cool," she said.

"(Khan) was favoured so heavily and I think she walked out on to the court thinking I was going to roll over. For me to come out guns blazing is typical of me in a team event."

Miller's last official match was last fall at the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, India, where she finished in the top 16.

Trev Borland, the head squash pro at the Winnipeg Winter Club and Miller's coach for the last eight years, said he considers her one of Canada's top four or five squash players of all time. And looking at all three racquet sports, he said she's the top Manitoban ever.

"I can't think of anyone, particularly in the last 15 years, who has done as much in all three racquet sports as she has," he said.

Miller makes Borland's job with Manitoba's junior players that much easier, too.

"She's the best possible role model you could have on and off court. If you're to going to say anything negative, it's that she could have a little meaner edge to her as a competitor once in awhile," he said, before qualifying that statement with a laugh.

Miller said she hopes to play masters events in possibly all three of her racquet sports. She would also consider playing "racketlon" -- a competition featuring table tennis, badminton, squash and tennis -- provided the tournament was held in either Canada or Ireland.

"It would have to be somewhere convenient. Now that I'm studying, I don't have much free time," she said.

When patients start calling her "Dr. Miller," she plans to be hearing it in Edmonton, where Milroy, also 30, works for his family's business.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 24, 2011 C7

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