Abdelrahman and Jana Dweek, a pair of Penn squash siblings, have competed side by side in many environments. For them, there was never a question of where the destination of their journey was: each of them competing at the highest level with the University of Pennsylvania, and loving every minute of it.
Born in Egypt and raised primarily in Canada, the siblings both have yet to compete for Penn, with Abdelrahman — the sophomore older brother — having taken a gap year during COVID-19, and Jana — the freshman younger sister — just months into her time at Penn. Both come in, though, with a wealth of accolades, as Abdelrahman reached No. 1 in the U19 rankings in Canada, and Jana earning a U19 Canadian national championship.
The Dweek siblings were between squash, soccer, and gymnastics but each chose squash, which afforded them Ivy League opportunities.
Squash is a big part of the Dweek family. Both of their parents played, and their younger brother has also joined in on the sport as well. The Dweek family was struck with difficult circumstance, though, in 2013 during the second Egyptian Revolution. They were forced to move from Egypt to Canada, upending their entire mode of existence.
“[Our parents had to] leave their family behind them, their work behind them, and had to restart their whole life,” Abdelrahman Dweek said.
Through many uncertainties in this transitional moment for their family, squash remained constant.
Canada's squash culture was more relaxed than Egypt's, but Jana felt strong differences in training styles, injury treatment, and competition. The siblings were coached and mentored by Jonathan Hill, the Junior National Coach of Squash Canada, who eventually became a close friend to both of them.
Abdelrahman recalls his first day training with Hill at age 11.
“'I’m going to coach you for the next seven years, and then you'll be gone,'” Hill told a young Abdelrahman.
Hill proved to be an integral piece of the Dweek family’s life in Canada, helping Abdelrahman learn English, Jana with her college essays, and volunteering with both siblings.
Hill's guidance seemed to work, as Abdelrahman won Canadian Nationals and culminated a successful junior career.
A running joke for the Penn squash programs is that Penn always recruits national winners in Canada. So, after his successes, Abdelrahman was recruited to Penn, along with multiple future teammates, some he had known previously from competition in both Egypt and Canada. In one Canadian tournament, he fell to future teammate James Flynn in a final match.
Jana’s aspirations toward Penn squash then became heavily influenced by her brother's. For some time, playing for Penn felt “unreachable” for her. However, it became an achievable goal after seeing her brother begin his Penn career.
The Dweek siblings may share similar paths of arriving at Penn, but they have drastically different styles of play, according to Penn assistant coach Stuart Crawford.
“Jana is a really good mover … a really good athlete, [whereas] Abdelrahman is one of the most skillful and talented players on the team,” he said.
Jana agreed, explaining that their play styles bear few similarities. However, she notes mental toughness as an important part of both of their games, and attributes that to the pressure of the Egyptian squash environment in which they were first trained.
That mental toughness also arises out of the Dweek siblings’ tight bond, which has thrived at Penn. They train together outside of practice and also serve as each other's support system.
“I tried to mentor her as much as I can and take her under my wing. She’s very driven and very motivated … we hang out every day and talk about squash and life,” Abdelrahman said.
As a coach, Crawford sees that Abdelrahman helps reassure Jana that she's training well, and she delivers him motivation to keep pushing himself in training and maintain a level of intensity that, according to sophomore teammate Roger Baddour, has increased this year.
“He’s been doing double sessions," Baddour said. "He's been putting, like, double the amount of work anyone has been putting in … that shows how much he wants to give to the team.”
In a mentally difficult sport, which some people call “chess on legs,” drive and intensity are key, but Abdelrahman Dweek believes that the men's team has a competitive edge on that front.
“At the end of the day, every team is going to be physical … when it comes down to it, it's more of the mentality," Abdelrahman said. "Who's really going to dig in there?”
Meanwhile, as a freshman, Jana is already having some success early on. Crawford explained that she's currently playing in the No. 3 slot on the women's team, which, with one exception, would be the highest a freshman has ever played for the Red and Blue.
“She’s really close with the seniors and juniors on the team … which shows how mature she is,” Baddour said. “With leadership stuff, she always comes to extra sessions … which then motivates other teammates.”
Reflecting on how much squash has shaped the lives of him and his sister so far, Abdelrahman shows a deep gratitude for his parents. He recalls his mom driving him 90 minutes to practice and 90 minutes back as a young player, and all of the various sacrifices and choices his family had to make in their challenging move to Canada.
“I hope that they know that one day I’ll hopefully pay them back for everything they’ve done for me … thank my parents for everything they’ve done," Abdelrahman said.
The Dweeks will take on their first year of Ivy play together this season. It seems that their teammates and coaches agree: they both will be a force to be reckoned with.