My Frustrating Year of Injury (1)
Long hours of intensive training on court, pushing your body to its limits in the gym and gruelling competitions week upon week are what many associate with the life of a tennis player. However, it can be quite the opposite. I’ve learnt this year the great effect an injury can have on a competitor’s career. Every tennis player takes being healthy and on court week in, week out for granted; I for one certainly did. However, last February I picked up a stress fracture in my lower back and have been unable to play for eight long months. I won’t lie, being injured sucks! In fact, it has turned out to be one of the most difficult periods in my life.
The year began with a hardcore four week pre-season, one week held at the renowned La Manga Resort in Spain. Although a successful pre season on the whole, it didn’t come without a few niggles. Most athletes in a physical block get the odd ache and pain due to the increased intensity, so I thought nothing of the small pains I experienced in my back. After surviving the pre-season and coming out of it much stronger and fitter, I played my first futures. I made it through the qualifying rounds in Liverpool with two great wins against tricky opponents.
In the later stages of my final qualifying round, however, I really ‘twanged’ my back. So much so that the following day I was unable to complete even the match warm up, forcing me to withdraw from the event. One MRI scan later and it was clear that I was going to have a lengthy period out of action. I was diagnosed with a partially fractured pars joint in the Lumbar 5. Nasty..!
On reflection, there are two ways in which you can deal with an injury like this: you can sulk and feel sorry for yourself, or you can try to make the most of the situation. Of course, I began by sulking…
After a week of self-pity, I decided to take the positive approach. I realised that being injured would allow me to accomplish things that I normally wouldn’t have been able to do. Gone were the hours on the tennis court, replaced by rehab sessions in the gym, reading books on the mental side of tennis and starting an online Spanish course. And as much as my mum can embarrass me, I also enjoyed spending more time at home in South Wales. I was able to catch up with my friends and developed a passion for cooking, mastering an incredible Thai curry and perfecting my homemade Spaghetti Bolognese. Several nights a week I invited friends over to the flat I shared with Oli Golding (and his Chow Chow, Mishka) for a gourmet meal in front of the football. On weekends, I was able to get out and enjoy London’s unique nightlife, meeting many interesting people from around the world. I also spent quite a lot of time with my friend Sunny, who is a very entertaining magician studying at King’s.
I enjoyed all these new experiences, which I had not previously had time for in my busy tennis schedule. However, knowing that I was going to be out of the game for a few months, it was very important not to sit around and let my fitness levels drop. Extremely limited by my stress fracture, training became tedious for several months. My sessions varied between the wattbike, Pilates, and Bikram Yoga. The wattbike is a static bike which British Cycling use to allow athletes to register their power output with each individual pedal. With the addition of a heart rate monitor there was no hiding from hard work! I’d kill myself 3 days a week on the bike, and attend Bikram Yoga sessions twice a week, held in a 40 degree room…essentially a sauna! I’d take the 6 30am classes, feeling a real sense of achievement when stepping out into the fresh air after an intense 90 minute class, always followed by a Starbucks coffee in Parsons Green.
After weeks and weeks of this boring routine, I was finally able to step back onto the court and play the sport I love. My return to court began by playing with mini green balls in the service boxes. I felt like I was 8 years old again. However, gradually I worked my way up to normal balls, and several weeks later I was sliding around on the clay, playing sets with Dan Evans. After completing what felt like more bike sessions than Lance Armstrong had totalled in his career I was ready to return to my competitive schedule. I was playing well, moving efficiently and ready to make a rapid return. My first competitive match back was at the Edinburgh $10k Futures event.
However, two days after commencing my return to the circuit in Edinburgh, I was sat in the physio room at the NTC once more. Having pulled out once more, the scan confirmed a recurrence of the same stress fracture. I was distraught!!! I can’t remember ever feeling so down before…
(End of part 1)
Part 2 will be uploaded next weekend. Stay tuned!!!