Bulletin Feature: Aly Abou Eleinen ’18 rose from Brooks to Penn to the professional squash world, and he’s loved every minute of it.
Aly Abou Eleinen ’18 has turned heads as a squash player since he was 10 years old, when he started traveling the world competing in squash tournaments. Now, following epic careers at Brooks and the University of Pennsylvania, Eleinen has started to make waves on the professional squash circuit.
Eleinen comes from a squash dynasty: His grandfather was a well-known squash player who served as vice president of the Egyptian Squash Federation. And, Eleinen’s brother, Seif Abou Eleinen ’14, preceded Aly Abou Eleinen at Brooks as a squash superstar before heading off to command the court at Harvard University.
“I grew up with a family that was really passionate about squash,” Eleinen says. “I grew up watching my brother’s practices and matches and how he prepares, and also my grandpa’s connection with the game, so it was only natural for me to fall in love with it too. It’s safe to say it was in my DNA.”
Eleinen had every opportunity to be drawn to squash, and he says he appreciates the game in and of itself, also. “It’s an individual sport,” he says. “You obviously have a coaching team and you work with your coaches. But at the end of the day, it’s just you. I love being on the court. It is just incredibly satisfying for me to move around the court and make split-second decisions and execute shots with precision. It’s a physical and a mental challenge, and it’s incredibly rewarding.”
Eleinen chose Brooks, in large part, because his brother also attended the school. “Seif’s always a big inspiration to me,” he says. “When he matriculated at Brooks as a fourth-former, I was only 11 years old, and I was just already in love with the idea of attending Brooks. My parents and I would visit him occasionally, and every time we did, I was more and more impressed with the campus, and I was really drawn to the close-knit community that Brooks had. And just the fact that students lived together on campus and formed strong bonds, that just really spoke to me. And when I visited my brother, you could just tell right away that the friendships he made were going to be life-long. I was really eager to be a part of that.”
Eleinen found more than just success on the court at Brooks. He also found, he says, individual people and groups that would carry him through his high school years and beyond. He points, for example, to squash coach and faculty emeritus Doug Burbank. “Mr. Burbank is more than just a squash coach,” Eleinen says. “To this day he still gives me advice, and to this day he is one of my biggest supporters, and it was really special to have him not just as a squash coach, but also almost a family member away from home.”
Eleinen says that Burbank helped him not only with his squash, but also with his personal growth and development. “He pushed me to be my best and was always there to offer guidance and support,” Eleinen says. “Mr. Burbank’s influence really extends beyond just the court and the classroom. He was just a perfect mentor for me.”
Eleinen credits the lessons he learned inside and outside of the classroom at Brooks with preparing him to take on the academic and athletic expectations of scholar-athlete life at Penn. “The leap from a small boarding school in North Andover to a large Ivy League university was definitely a big one,” Eleinen says. “But looking back, I was well-prepared. Brooks was academically challenging, and I was able to balance my time between joining teams, figuring out a social life away from home, and also working on my squash and playing at the highest level.”
Reaching New Heights
Eleinen says that when he began at Penn, he applied the same formula he had at Brooks: He worked on his squash, tried to make friends and have a social life, and really focused on his academics. “It felt like I had already been doing that,” he says. “Obviously it was on a higher and more challenging level, but it was also very, very rewarding.”
Eleinen’s hard work paid off: He notes that as a senior captain at Penn he led the Quakers to an Ivy League championship for the first time in 40 years. He also racked up a laundry list of individual honors: In three full seasons (excluding a fourth season that was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic), Eleinen was named the Penn Athletics Freshman Athlete of the Year; was named the squash program’s rookie of the year; was named the program’s most valuable player twice; and was named to the All-Ivy and first-team All-America teams three times.
He captained the team to the national championship finals as a senior, before Penn ultimately fell to Harvard University. Individually Eleinen appeared in the final of the individual national championship, the first appearance for Penn since the mid-1980s. Now, Eleinen plays on the professional squash circuit, something he calls “a lifelong dream.”
“I felt that I was at the level to play professionally, and not a lot of people get to do what they love every day,” he says. “I just was not ready to give up the sport yet. I felt like I still have so much to learn and a lot of potential, and I’m glad that I made that decision.”
Eleinen calls his professional stint “an incredible journey so far. I’m just so grateful to be living a dream every day and playing the sport I love.” Eleinen won his first two professional tournaments, which he says feels surreal and validating of all the hard work he’s put in.
“Each new tournament provides me with opportunities to grow, both as a player and as a person,” he says. “I’m constantly learning and pushing myself to reach new heights.”