Monday, March 20, 2023

“There was a loud crack – I immediately knew it was bad….”

Lisa Aitken has told Squash Mad the heart-wrenching story of the gruesome knee injury she sustained at the Women’s World Team Championship in Cairo which has put her out of action for a year.

The horrendous nature and circumstances of the 32-year-old’s injury in December have not been reported until now. After flying home from Egypt for extensive surgery, she is currently unable to walk and faces a tortuously long road back to fitness – but one she is determined to take day by day.

The Scottish international and popular SquashTV commentator was two games ahead and 4-4 in the third against Australia’s Donna Lobban in a pool match on December 12 when the ‘freak’ incident occurred. 

Aitken takes up the story: 

“I put Donna into the front left of the court onto her forehand (she’s a lefty like me) and I got to the T. She shaped to hit it straight, but flipped it crosscourt on to my backhand. I moved my body weight from left to right – a movement that I’d do in almost every single rally. 

But in doing so, my ankle rolled inward and my knee shot off to the side – everything in the knee moved violently sideways. It all happened in a split second. There was a loud crack and I immediately knew it was bad. 

My initial reaction was that I’d broken my leg. The pain was absolutely excruciating. I went into shock straight away and passed out. The physio and coach were suddenly next to me. I was struggling to breathe and making the most obscene whale-like noises. 

I kept fainting then coming round. My only rational thoughts were, what on earth have I done? How am I going to get off this court? The next bit I remember, I was on one foot, with one arm each around coach and physio, but I had no idea how I was going to get off court. 

I remember an Egyptian photographer was standing at the door taking photos of me in great distress. I shouted at him, using several expletives, and my team-mate Ali Thomson dragged him out the way. 

But when he moved out of my vision, I remember seeing the spectators and the shock on all of their faces. A few people were crying. It was in that moment that I realised, ‘This is bad’. 

I passed out in a chair, then an ambulance arrived. Luckily, being a squash player in Egypt, I was treated like royalty at the hospital where I had an X-ray. I then had to travel 40 minutes to another hospital for an MRI scan. 

Aitken in action earlier in the fateful World Team Championship match against Donna Lobban

I had pain relief and was in slightly less discomfort, so was able to return to the hotel. There, I saw our physio. She’d seen the incident and the scan results. Luckily we know each other pretty well and she could be honest. She said, ‘How long do you think you’re going to be out for?’ I said, ‘A year?’ She replied, ‘I’m glad that’s what your expectations are, because that is what you’re looking at.’ 

I stayed in my hotel room for the rest of the week while the team continued in the tournament. Although it was a long week, it gave me a chance to get the swelling down before the flight home, and also to process what had happened to me. 

I’d felt fit and robust and had never had a big injury before – apart from a freak injury to my hand after I’d fallen over whilst I had food poisoning last year and then a tear to my plantar fasciitis in New Zealand when I was doing some plyometric jumps and stupidly landed on some TV cables! 

But I’d never had any issue before with my knees. My partner [Aston Villa and Scotland defender Rachel Corsie] has been plagued by knee injuries and I’d always kind of switched off whenever she talked about it. Now I wanted to know everything and was sorry I’d ignored her! 

I had surgery on 3 January. I had my ACL repaired with a hamstring graft, my MCL fully repaired and my meniscus re-routed and repaired.

The first few days afterwards were very difficult mentally and physically. I definitely wasn’t prepared for the level of pain I was in. The surgery was expensive and was bigger than the surgeon had thought initially. 

The good thing is I now have a completely brand new knee. Everything I did in the accident is fixed. It’s going to be a long road ahead but two weeks down the line I’m in a better place than I was. 

There are obviously going to be bad phases. I won’t be at the ToC, for example, and that will be a different phase of realisation. The next part will be watching my ranking start to drop. There will be layers of adjustments.

A week after this happened I’d got to my highest ranking of 21. Being so close to a goal of top 20 and having that swiped away is really frustrating – but it also fuels my motivation every day while I’m going through this. Being so close yet now so far away; that’s fuel. 

I’ve got stitches in the inside and outside of my knee, so the first six weeks are all about healing. I’m in a brace and on crutches and I’m not allowed to do anything. 

I did sneak out to watch the mighty Leeds play at Aston Villa last week. Thankfully we were in a hospitality box but it was painful – both my leg and the result! 

I get my stitches out next week which is step one. In the next six weeks I will just focus on healing and getting the swelling down. I can’t walk and I’m not supposed to put the leg down. It’s uncomfortable because I spend most of my time with the foot up, so when it’s down, the swelling starts again straight away. 

I’m having to view every day now as a training day – it’s just that my training looks a bit different to how it usually does. Mentally and physically there’s strength, courage, perseverance and struggles – even when you’re fit and healthy. My version of those things just looks a bit different now.”


Lisa was talking to Mike Dale

Squash Mad wishes Lisa all the very best with her recovery and looks forward to her return to the SquashTV commentary booth – and the squash court.  

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