By Alex Wan
Having been on the receiving end of injuries, it is no surprise why Low Wee Wern is particularly emphasising on physiotherapy facilities, as she shared about having them in the Kallang replacement centre in our first part of the LWW series. Hers was a painful story as she had to leave the tour at the peak of her career, then ranked fifth in the world, to undergo not one, but three major surgeries on her knee.
Throughout 2014 up to March 2015, Wee Wern was at the peak of her career in the world’s top ten and consistently making the last eight of the PSA majors. This took a deadly turn when she tore her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). That injury is perhaps one of the most serious to any athlete and one too many have had their careers ended because of it.
She underwent major surgery to have the ACL rebuilt shortly after and came back onto tour eight months later. It was, as many would argue, too soon for such an injury.
After about a year of competing again, scans showed that the ligament somehow “disappeared”. The graft which bundled the ligament with the hamstring was just gone. When interviewed by the press back then, Wee Wern described the news as “heart-breaking”, understandably.
Once again, she had to go through not one, but two surgeries in London to rectify that. This time round, she took longer to recover. As a result, she even had to miss the 2018 Commonwealth Games, which can be argued as the biggest multi-sport event for squash.
It has been five years since the first surgery and Wee Wern has slowly, but steadily been coming back to a level she is striving for. We asked her to share with us her thoughts on this topic so that our less experienced and younger athletes could benefit from her experience.
“I think the key is injury prevention, but in sports, you can’t really predict what’s going to happen. Even for myself, it never ever crossed my mind that I would tear my anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and having to undergo a few surgeries for that.
“I’m fairly fit and strong, so I didn’t think that it would happen to me. But it’s a lot to do with training over the years and the importance of not over-training. It’s important to realise that the body needs adequate rest as well, and resting is part of training,” Wee Wern said.
For those who are already injured and out of the game, it is natural for any athlete or even a social squash player, to want to get back into action as fast as possible. But this is often dangerous as not allowing the body to heal completely could lead to far worse injuries. While there is no concrete proof that Wee Wern’s second and third surgeries were a consequence of her coming back into action too early the first-time round, she has learned that it is important to stick to rehabilitation programme.
“It’s easy for me to say that you should follow the protocols because they have been studied and researched on over many years. I thought I could break the protocol and I’m sure many would think they can too.
“You should have a physiotherapist that you work with day in and day out because they are the ones who know best the condition. It is important to be as honest as possible with them and yourself because sometimes you may not feel up to it, but will just want to push it.
“I would say it’s not worth the risk as a couple of days might actually result to a couple of months”, she added. In her case, it took well more than a few months to come back to where she is now.
Having been out of action throughout 2017 and half of 2018, she came back to compete in the 2018/2019 PSA World Tour season, where her ranking dropped outside the top 250. After many months of struggle, she has inched her way back to a more familiar territory of 23 in the world.
Prior to the tour being suspended due to Covid-19, she had one of her best wins when she ousted world number seven Amanda Sobhy at the Carol Weymuller Open in January 2020. She was also a runner-up at the 2019 Macau Open as an unseeded player. She feels that she is finally coming back into a form where she would like to, but is still working on finding that consistency.
“It’s just a lot of hard work and everybody has gotten so much better and stronger over the time that I’ve been out. It’s so competitive now and anyone in the top 20 or even 30 can beat any player now. It’s no longer like before where the earlier rounds are mostly one-sided affairs.
“The thing that I struggle with is actually trying to get at that level consistently. I’ve had a couple of wins against some top ten players, so I know I can play at that level. But to be able to find it day in and day out, that’s the hard part, because it’s no longer second nature to me.
“When I was fifth in the world, it was second nature to just go in and do what I need to do (in the earlier rounds). It just takes me a lot longer to find that level of squash and sometimes, as frustrating as it can be, I lose in the first round because I am taking too long to find that.”
With the tour being suspended indefinitely now, who knows, everyone might just have to find that second nature all over again.