When the McKays met, Heather was tense, overtrained and smoking. Brian got her to reduce her training and concentrate instead on practicing shots for no more than an hour at a time. "If you work out too hard," he told her, "you get exhausted. And then where's your strength?" Heather eventually relaxed and cut out smoking on her own.
By early 1962 Heather was ready to travel. She had won her second Australian national title, and the British were waiting. The citizens of Queanbeyan passed the hat and collected £231 to pay for her plane fare.
Leaving Australia was a frightening prospect for McKay. The "girl from the bush," as other players called her, was still only 20. Fortunately, when she got off the plane in London, "shy and bloody near tongue-tied," the grande dame of British squash, Janet Morgan, was there to greet her. Morgan had won the British championship 10 consecutive times. The first of McKay's international "mums" took the kid under her wing, tutoring her in the social graces as well as changing her backhand grip to rid her of a lingering tennis elbow. Ten years later, when McKay won her 11th straight British title to break Morgan's record, Morgan presented her with an engraved bowl.
Before playing for her first British championship, McKay warmed up in the Scottish Nationals, which began just 10 days after her arrival in London. She was unaccustomed to the British ball, which is spongier and deader than the Australian one, so it was no surprise that she lost a five-game final to Fran Marshall, Great Britain's No. 1 player. "Don't worry," McKay wrote home, "it won't happen again." What she meant was that she wouldn't lose again on her 1962 trip. What she didn't realize was that she would never lose again, period.
The following week she beat Marshall 3-1 in the North of England finals. There followed two weeks of practice under the famous Egyptian coach, Dardir Ali El-Bakary, who honed the skills that eventually made McKay unbeatable—footwork, anticipation and her special ability to read where an opponent's shot will go even before it's hit. Then she shut out defending champion Marshall to win the British nationals.
After that it was into the record books: 14 Australian championships, 16 British titles, the only two women's world tournaments ever played, every major trophy in North America. And all the while she played field hockey in her spare time. In 1967, the first of the two years in which McKay was voted all-Australia in hockey, her two-sport parley proved irresistible to Aussie sportswriters. They voted her the nation's highest athletic honor, Australian Athlete of the Year. Her competition included record-breaking runners Herb Elliott and Ron Clarke and world bantamweight champion Lionel Rose.
Winning everything in sight wasn't without its challenges. How, for openers, to stay interested? McKay once let up and nearly lost. Never again. Playing weaker opponents, she resolved to get off the court as quickly as possible. "I would usually give away one point so that it wouldn't be 9-0, 9-0, 9-0," she says. "But if I gave away any more, the other player wouldn't have gotten any satisfaction. People would've said, 'Well, Heather wasn't trying.' This way they knew that my opponent earned the extra points." If McKay did anything at all to extend a match, it was to practice shots she wasn't entirely comfortable with or to perfect subtle things—hiding pain and fatigue, disguising shots until the last possible second. She developed two personalities: open and gregarious off the court, hard-nosed and deceptive on it, as befits an avid player of Liar Poker. Her philosophy was: There is always something to work on—and it made even the easiest win a profitable one.
For the longest time, though, that was the only profit McKay got out of squash. Until the British opened their national championships to professionals in 1974, McKay remained an amateur. Because her jobs as a receptionist and bookkeeper at squash clubs paid poorly, she was obliged to supplement her income. At one point she moonlighted as a telephone dispatcher for a cab company. Not even by combining her pay with her husband's could McKay live in real comfort.
Finally the McKays came up with a money-making gambit. They would go on tour, bringing squash to the outback and picking up pocket money in the process. So they hit the road—first in Australia, later in Britain and South Africa. The script rarely varied. They would arrive in town in time to attend a tea the delighted small-town mayor would throw for them. Then they'd squeeze in a couple of interviews, rest a bit at the hotel, have dinner and head over to the club for their show. First, Heather would take apart the local champion, usually a man. Brian would come out and play her. They would keep the score as close as possible. If Heather was off, Brian would hit a few tins. If Brian was off, Heather would keep her shots high. They would then demonstrate some of the game's fine points and afterward mingle with the townfolk. If Heather had any shyness left, she soon outgrew it in the process of charming a new crowd every night. "It was important to socialize," says Brian. "If they had any doubts about what we were saying, we could make our points more personally. And it was good to meet other people. Otherwise we'd have gone for weeks speaking to no one but each other."
The next day they would be off to another town. On one tour through New South Wales and Victoria, they had one free night in six weeks. "The trips were great for both of us," says Brian. "We got to sightsee, pick up expense money and publicize squash. It was wonderful for Heather's squash, too. Every night she had a new opponent. And you wouldn't have believed the condition of the courts. We played on one in South Africa where the paint hadn't dried. There was talcum powder all over the front wall, and every time the ball hit the wall the powder came off. Pretty soon the floor was covered. On another court there were wooden beams and cobwebs where there was supposed to be a ceiling. Great training."