Courtesy of Amanda Sobhy

In My Own Words: Squash superstar Amanda Sobhy finally starts ‘to see a bit of light’ in injury recovery

In this ongoing series, professional squash player Amanda Sobhy, who was ranked No. 7 in the world last year, shares her thoughts, struggles and triumphs as she recovers from Achilles surgery. 

Last week I reached the fourth month since my Achilles surgery operation. I think to myself, “has four months really passed by so quickly?” In retrospect it also feels like a lifetime ago when I was back competing in Floridablanca, Colombia on the Professional Squash Association World Tour.

The injury in Colombia feels like it happened yesterday. I can clearly remember lunging for the drop shot, the one that could have won the match for me but instead snapped my Achilles. Still vivid in my mind is the popping sound, then suddenly falling to floor and asking my opponent if she had kicked me in the back of my leg. At that point I knew exactly what had happened.

Looking back, I can see myself bedridden, graduating to a cast and crutches, to finally managing a double standing calf raise which I accomplished just last week! Now I finally see all of the progress I’ve made so far. However, it’s easy to look at my recovery from a more pessimistic perspective, which I try not to revert to.

I could easily think, “I’ve been recovering for four months and all I can do right now is walk without a limp and do a standing calf raise? How long will it be until I can run, jump, or be able to push off and retrieve a drop shot on the squash court?”

I realize that there is such a long way to go in my recovery process and sometimes I just can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.

In the beginning I enjoyed my time off, the longest stretch I’ve had from playing squash since I started at the age of eleven. Once I was off the crutches I was making the most of my time by hanging out with friends, going on a vacation and heading to concerts and music festivals. For the first time in a very long time I had zero obligations other than keeping up with my physical therapy. I was having the best time of my life!

Prior to my injury, I had limited free time outside of squash training and competing, so initially my injured life was fantastic. But then there came a point where I didn’t want to be partying all the time, with few goals in my life. It wasn’t familiar or comfortable waking up each morning without any drive or goals to motivate me each day. Squash has always been my passion and this passion got me out of bed each and every morning. No matter how sore or tired I was I knew that I had to wake up every morning to train in order to become the best squash player in the world.

These days I wake up for physical therapy three times a week and fitness training another two days, but apart from that, my physical activities are limited. I can’t train all day or even do the things I love to do such as hiking, rock-climbing, paddle-boarding or other physical hobbies because that would be extremely counterproductive to my Achilles recovery. I have to be smart about the amount of strenuous exercise I can put on my ankle. I can’t overdo it and it’s definitely not worth the risk. I learned the hard way in early June when I got cleared to start weaning out of the boot and into two shoes. In my mind I thought that meant that I was ready to walk in shoes and that the “boot phase” was over.

To me, heading back into the boot was a digression and I desperately wanted to move forward. Unfortunately I walked way too much that first weekend in Boston, resulting in my ankle being excruciatingly sore. Due to overexerting myself, I was put back into my walking boot. I had to gradually work my way back into two shoes but it took me a solid five weeks until I could finally walk without any soreness or pain. Talk about a bummer! I finally fully understood the term “less is more,” which I remind myself on a daily basis.

For an athlete like myself it’s extremely frustrating not to be active because my whole life has revolved around sports and in particular, training for squash. This period of my recovery is one of the toughest mental challenges I’ve endured. I’m at the cusp of being able to start exercising, but my ankle is still extremely volatile. My physical therapy is gaining momentum each week as I incorporate new exercises into my sessions and increase my range of mobility. I have added step ups and wall sits with weight, single leg balance on a foam pad, single leg balance while throwing a ball at a trampoline, double standing calf raises, seated calf raises with weights, leg press, and single leg cone touches.

These are all big steps for me and I can feel myself getting stronger each week. Slowly, the weight and/or the number of reps increase each week or the box I step up on gets higher, all of which allows me to stay positive. As the saying goes, “Rome was not built in a day.” I cannot expect to be back to full strength for quite some time. Fortunately a few milestones have been reached this past week as I’ve started doing yoga and Pilates to help strengthen and improve my balance.

I also participated in my first Flywheel (indoor cycling) class post surgery. It was nerve-wracking but an amazing feeling to get back to doing some form of intense cardio! It didn’t even matter that I was sitting on the bike the whole time because I was moving and sweating!

Finally I am proud to say that in honor of concluding my four month post-surgery anniversary, I hit my first squash ball since rupturing my Achilles in Colombia with a group of young squash kids whom I was babysitting for. I remained rock solid in one spot in the court and told the kids they had to hit directly to me! They did and we all had a great time! It was incredible just to be able to step on court again and hit a squash ball. I still have a very long way to go but I’m starting to finally see a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel.

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