Monday, May 27, 2024

GILLY LANE joins Squash Mad: How injuries wrecked my dream and left me seeking a new direction

Gilly Lane: Despite my injury hell, I have no regrets about cutting my career short

By Gilly Lane – Squash Mad Columnist

We are proud to welcome Gilly Lane to the Squash Mad editorial team. One of the finest squash players to emerge in the USA, Gilly’s playing career was sadly cut short by injury. He is now building a reputation as a dynamic coach and we look forward to sharing his news and views in the months ahead. In his first Squash Mad article, Gilly recalls his life on Tour and how dreams of a successful professional career were shattered by successive injuries.

In the spring of 2007, I began the start of my dream journey in becoming a professional athlete. Growing up I had played every sport imaginable, but was recruited to attend the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia to play squash.

At the time I didn’t think anything of playing professional squash. Squash was the sport that I participated in during the months of November to March in between soccer and baseball season.

Becoming a professional squash player was something of an anomaly when I began. Chris Gordon and Julian Illingworth were already on tour but it had been very rare that an American had given it a real go on the world stage.

Players such as Tim Wyant, Beau River, and Ryan Donegan had all given it a shot but after two years had started moving toward other careers. After talking with my then coach, Craig Thorpe-Clark, I knew I had to find a place to base myself and spend at least two years shaping my game into a professional style of game.

I found a great home to base myself, thanks to Dutch number one Laurens Jan Anjema and his manager at the time Tommy Berden. Tommy was a former top 25 player in the world and had recently set up his own company managing professional squash players.

I moved to Holland in January of 2008 and it was right then and there that my true professional career started. Tommy quickly became my manager and built an amazing team around me with Lucas Buit (Dutch national team coach) as my coach and Floris Minnaert (Adidas tennis physical trainer) as my personal fitness trainer.

First it was my hamstring that I tore in the World Open Qualifying finals at St Georges in August of 2010 and then a devastating back injury that occurred in the summer of 2011 preparing for the World Teams in Paderborn.

The best athletes in the world will tell you that they need a great team in place to be successful and that is exactly what I had. Tommy is one of the most organised in the world and thus planned everything for me to be on top of my game.

Lucas was the perfect coach for me as he was tough on me as if he knew me for years but was by the end of our time together one of my closest friends in squash. Floris is still to this day the best personal trainer that I have ever worked with.

He was not only able to make me stronger physically than I have ever been, but continually worked with me on the mental side of the game trying to keep me sharp in every which way possible even when it seemed like I was down. Everything that I did in my career I owe to these three guys.

After spending three years in Holland and playing league squash in England, Holland, Germany, Sweden and France, I felt it was time to move back to my hometown and continue my career under the tutelage of John White, former world number one.

John and I had been good friends and he offered to help me in anyway possible and thought it was just the next step toward the top. I had been a top 50 ranked player as of September 2010, but a plethora of injuries started to take a toll on my body.

First it was my hamstring that I tore in the World Open Qualifying finals at St Georges in August of 2010 and then a devastating back injury that occurred in the summer of 2011 preparing for the World Teams in Paderborn.

Gilly (right) with US team-mates Chris Gordon, Ryan Donegan and Julian Illingworth. Picture courtesy of US Squash

These injuries took their toll and I knew that it was time to rethink my next steps. I retired from the Tour in December of 2011 on my own terms. I knew that it was the time to take my life in a different direction and have no regrets about my decision.

I looked back on my career and had achieved more than many Americans had done. I reached a career high number 48 in the world (which at the time was the second highest ranking for an American in the softball era behind Julian Illingworth), won three PSA Tour titles and had been a member of the United States national team since 2007.

Currently I am the assistant squash coach at the University of Pennsylvania where I am getting my Masters in Management.

I am also the US Junior Boys National Team assistant coach as I am trying to give everything that I learned on Tour and in my life back to the next generation of US Squash players.

I am really looking forward to writing for and letting readers all over the world see the ‘behind-the-scenes stories of the squash world and an American perspective on our great game of squash.


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