Dudley’s long road back to Winnipeg One-time teen squash prodigy returns to hometown and court after years of living with mental-health issues
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Becks Dudley is coming home again.
And it isn’t just a courtesy visit. She is 33 years old and she’s back in Winnipeg to play squash.
It will be a day to celebrate overcoming everything that she’s been though, strived for and withstood in the last two decades.
“I’ve never in my wildest dreams thought I’d be back there playing squash,” Dudley said recently from her home in Edmonton. “I had that thought in my head for a couple of days and talked to my parents (Deb and Bob Dudley) about it and decided, ‘Yep, I’ll go back to where it all began.’ I’m nervous but excited.”
In 2003, Dudley hit the trifecta: she ruled the under-15 female division at the national squash championships, Canadian Junior Open and U.S. Junior Open simultaneously.
Her coach from that era, Trevor Borland, watched her move like a cat on the court, exquisitely balanced, and called her “arguably the top girl or player I’ve ever coached.”
The future appeared to be unlimited for the 14-year-old Winnipegger, but within a year her life was in complete turmoil.
She quit the sport amid a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder and the first of four suicide attempts before leaving home and spending years living on the streets in Vancouver and Ottawa.
Then, four years ago, Dudley began a road to recovery. She took some tentative steps back to the squash court, eventually winning the 2019 Alberta women’s title from her home base in Medicine Hat.
On Friday afternoon at the Winnipeg Squash Racquet Club, she’ll make her long-awaited competitive return to her former hometown when she partners with an old friend, Crash Test Dummies drummer Mitch Dorge, in doubles play at the Manitoba Open.
Their bond goes way back.
Dudley was an 11-year-old prodigy hanging around the Winnipeg Winter Club when she asked Dorge, a family friend and fellow squash enthusiast, to serve as an interview subject for a Grade 5 class project at Linden Lanes School.
“I interviewed him just to talk about squash; I don’t think I knew at the time how famous he was,” she said. “I mean, he’s been such a solid guide to me over the years. Never turned his back after me quitting squash and the lifestyle I ended up living.
“He’s always been there for me. So, when I decided that I was gonna go play in this tournament, he was the first person I thought about calling and saying, ‘Hey, you want to play doubles with me?’ ”
“He’s (Dorge) always been there for me. So, when I decided that I was gonna go play in this tournament, he was the first person I thought about calling and saying, ‘Hey, you want to play doubles with me?’ ” – Becks Dudley
There was no hesitation for Dorge, a longtime Winnipegger who, in recent years, has diversified his music career as film and TV composer.
“I don’t think she called expecting it to happen that I would just say, ‘Yes,’ ” said Dorge. “Because when I said, ‘Absolutely,’ she was overjoyed. She was like, ‘Wow.’ So she’s taking chances, right? She’s coming back here and she could have picked a number of people to play with. Why she chose me I’m not 100 per cent sure.”
What is certain is the long, hard road Dudley has travelled.
At the 2003 Canada Games, the provincial coaching staff discovered a suicide note and kept a close watch as Dudley helped Manitoba to a bronze medal in the team event. Later that year, she hung herself from a stairwell at Vincent Massey Collegiate and only survived after being cut down by a quick-acting teacher.
Dudley was hospitalized back then. She continues to work on improving her mental health.
People diagnosed with borderline personality disorder often exhibit self-harm. Dudley’s left forearm no longer has any feeling; it’s covered with scars after years of cutting.
“That’s an addiction in itself,” she said. “Over the years I’ve been able to stop doing that, but it’s not to say that there’s not ever a temptation.”
Dudley has learned to manage her illness and will be seeing a psychologist and psychiatrist to help with her anxiety. After years of substance abuse and weight gain, she has shed about 100 pounds with a return to better diet and fitness.
“None of that has really made sense, you know, it’s not like life was horrible,” she said. “It was just really struggling with impulse stuff. And then I’d get a bad thought in my head and it was like, ‘All right, I’m going to take these pills.’ On my last (suicide) attempt, it was when my dog passed away (in 2015).”
Dudley’s return to a squash court in Winnipeg is an event her mother never anticipated. At one time, even to mention squash to her daughter was forbidden.
“I don’t know if it was ever a conscious thought of hers not to go back there when she started playing again,” said Deb Dudley from her home in Medicine Hat. “She’s just become such a healthy mind and body that this is the next step.
“I never, ever thought this day would happen.”
“I don’t know if it was ever a conscious thought of hers not to go back there when she started playing again… She’s just become such a healthy mind and body that this is the next step.” – Deb Dudley
Amazingly, playing the game again after denying it for so long has triggered the healing process.
“Squash was her passion and her mental illness took that from her,” added her mom. “At a young age, she didn’t understand that it was her depression taking it from her. And I think she felt that this was just how it was supposed to be.”
Dudley’s hope for the future has been bolstered by a new job. She recently moved to the Alberta capital, taking a job at the Edmonton Squash Club while also serving as a caregiver and becoming an accredited nutrition counsellor.
Sometimes she can’t shake her past, however.
A variety of face tattoos make Dudley a target of public curiosity and concern. Recently, she found herself under surveillance while making an otherwise innocuous trip to a store.
“I was having a talk with a friend about my face tattoos and, in all honestly, I only got them because I didn’t think I’d be alive this long,” she said. “I got my first one when I was 19 and then I think the last one on my face was probably eight or nine years ago.”
“I was having a talk with a friend about my face tattoos and, in all honestly, I only got them because I didn’t think I’d be alive this long.” – Becks Dudley
Dudley is grateful she found her way back to the squash court. Her journey has served as a personal redemption and her life should serve as an inspiration for others.
“I think her story needs to be told over and over and over again,” said Dorge. “I can think of so many times that I’ve been on the road, myself personally, where I’ve bumped into people that are really struggling with life.
“And I say, ‘You know what, just go to Google, type in Becks Dudley and see what comes up and I think that you can read her story and kind of go, ‘OK, all right, let’s get my s—- in order here.’ ”
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.