It took awhile for Alana Miller to realize it, but after the light bulb went on, her performance took off.
The 27-year-old squash player from Winnipeg recently returned home from the Pan Am Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, with some new jewelry around her neck -- specifically gold and silver medals.
A force on the squash court for the last 16 years, Miller has begun to reach her stride in the sport. It was three years ago that she decided it was time fitness became a part of her daily routine.
"It took a while to realize the importance of fitness and training," she admitted earlier this week after returning home from a Vancouver tournament. "I feel like I'm just starting to figure out what my body should feel like before I play. I've learned to achieve a higher level of fitness over the last year."
And it's showed. Miller won a silver medal in women's individual play at the Pan Ams and followed that up with a surprising win over Latasha Khan of the U.S., a player ranked 14 spots ahead of her in the world rankings, to help Canada claim the gold in the women's team final.
"I did think I could score two medals but I thought a realistic goal was individual bronze and a team gold," said the reigning Canadian champion. "Once I got to the tournament and became comfortable on the court I thought a silver individual was possible."
Miller has played Khan twice in the last couple of years and hadn't "gotten a game from her." That changed when Miller, ranked 41st in the world, beat Khan in straight games 9-5, 9-7, 10-8.
Her training in the gym -- she's active six times a week -- has improved her game but it's also kept her in the game. Recurring injuries to her knees and back forced her to take action.
"With recurring injuries I'd be off the court for weeks at a time," said Miller. "I finally figured out that in order to play a match pain-free I'd have to have strong enough legs and a strong core."
Miller keeps her cardio up by running on a treadmill most days in between on-court training sessions. The most difficult, she says, is the mile run where she'll run as fast as she can for a mile, rest for three minutes and repeat twice.
She'll also do a bit of weight work, mostly during her off-season so as not to exhaust herself on the court. Sit-ups, pushups, squats and a few upper body exercises are also in her routine.
"I'm focussing on playing well at a healthy, fit weight," she said. "When you feel light, you play light. It's a psychological feeling. Luckily running helps keep the weight down and I try to eat a lot of fruits and vegetables and try not to eat late at night."
Miller is preparing for a tournament in Calgary in six weeks and the world championships in Madrid in November.
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