Publishers Note Back in the Saddle Again

By Jay D. Prince

It’s been seven months. Okay, seven months, twenty-one days, twelve hours, since my last match as a right-handed squash player. But who’s counting? Okay, me. After months of waiting around to have shoulder surgery (all summer) followed by months of rehab, I finally hit the ball with my right hand a few days ago. Left-handed was interesting, often times frustrating, and sometimes gratifying (particularly when I took games from a few ‘C’ players), but never fully satisfying. A lot was going through my mind on that Monday afternoon when I made the decision to test my “new” arm. Things like…

Excitement! Yes, despite the fact that I intended to hit just a few balls, I gradually began hitting them harder and harder. And after 15 minutes or so by myself, a friend showed up to question what I was doing with a racquet in my normal hand. But, as squash players typically respond, it wasn’t long before he and I were doing a few drills. Oh yeah, I was hitting the ball up and down the wall with another human being. I mean how cool is that? Of course, I couldn’t stop there. It was time to play some points. Make that games. Four to be exact—with me winning 3-1. I don’t care if my friend was struggling with his own ailments. I put my right arm through its paces and won a “match” for the first time in nearly a year!

Heart Attack? Almost. Drilling for 10 minutes left me huffing and puffing, but midway through the first game, I was about ready to look for my phone to call for my own ambulance. I’ve been trying to maintain some amount of fitness, but it didn’t take long to be reminded that squash is a different animal. I’ve put in over 1,000 miles on a stationary bike since last June, hundreds on my road bike, plus a few feeble attempts on the treadmill in an effort to avoid dropping dead in my tracks when I get back to playing squash for real. Didn’t work. My heart felt like it was going to leap out of my throat a few times. Thank goodness for breaks between games. And yes, I’m sure I broke the 90-second rule.

Ouch, that hurt…but only once. Thankfully, I played all four games without wincing in pain. Except for one ball that was just above shoulder height and a bit out in front of me. It was quick, but poignant—a not-so-subtle reminder that my shoulder can still feel like it’s been put through a meat grinder.

Where’s the ice? Being the obedient patient that I am, I quickly sought refuge in the ice machine after pushing things a bit too hard. But the next day was far worse. Not so much pain, just obvious discomfort that screamed in my ear: “You dummy. It’s been a long time since you’ve done anything strenuous. And you think you can just waltz onto the squash court and hammer away? And what do you mean you want to do it again tomorrow?” Fortunately, I can honestly say my shoulder doesn’t hurt. I just can’t do an arm circle effortlessly.

Okay, maybe I should wait a couple more days…weeks? I’m not sure on this one. I’ve had two other minor operations over the past few years, and I was told then to let pain be my guide. Part of me wants to do that this time around too, but the rational part of me doesn’t want to end up back in my doctor’s office either.

What is my PT going to say? Yes, I will tell her I was a bad boy by jumping the gun. But just by a few weeks. After all, my doctor did tell me he thought I’d be able to start playing again in March. Then again, knowing my PT, she’ll find a way to remind me that rehab is still under way. I just hope it won’t leave me screaming, “Ouch, that really hurts!”

Too late for Nationals this year? I guess I’d be getting a bit ahead of myself on this one. It was just one match. But already I’ve got my sights set on next year. It’s been 18 years since I last missed playing in the US Nationals, er, Championships as they are now called. The worst part is that I will be there anyway. By the time you read this, the Skill Level Championships will be over, and the US Championships will be coming up in Portland, OR—just three hours from home.

Now where’s that super-sized mega-bottle of Aleve?