Veteran squash player Carin Clonda, who at only 14 was the first elite squash player to come out, has been honoured with an Order of Australia Medal (OAM) in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List, which was announced on Monday.

Clonda, 49, told Sydney Star Observer that the award had come as a complete surprise.

“You’re not told initially, so I didn’t know anything about it until I received a letter from the Governor-General’s office to say I’d been nominated for my services to the sport of squash,” she said.

“It’s a pretty rigorous process — it takes between 18 months and two years to vet you. They do a lot of reference checks, and it’s a panel of 19 who decide whether or not you’ll be awarded.”

Clonda has had an illustrious career in squash, becoming the number one junior female player in the world at just 17 before turning professional at the age of 22.

Later in her career she’s been involved with the game off the court, acting as the squash competition manager for the 2002 Sydney Gay Games and coordinating the first all-gay team to compete in mainstream squash tournaments.

“I came out when I was 14, really just starting to play squash. I’ve been very well-accepted in the world of squash for the most part. Sure, I’ve received a few derogatory remarks in the past, but I’ve been out and proud for many, many years.”

Her career hasn’t been without its hardships though. Clonda has been plagued by serious health problems, including chronic fatigue syndrome, spinal fusion, and last year, two total hip replacement surgeries. Despite all this, she remains upbeat about her future in the sport — her goal for 2010 is to compete in the World Masters Squash Championships in Germany in August.

Before that, though, there’s the small matter of attending the official ceremony at Government House in a few months’ time to receive her Order of Australia medal.

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