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Exclusive: Golden girl Gina Kennedy reveals the health nightmare she has suffered since winning Commonwealth Games title

Mike Dale
Mike Dale
Mike Dale is a lifelong squash player and a long-time sports journalist. Loves watching, meeting and interviewing the game’s star players.

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‘I couldn’t get out of bed for a week and playing in Egypt was a very bad decision’
EXCLUSIVE by MIKE DALE (Squash Mad Correspondent)

England’s Commonwealth Games gold medal heroine Georgina Kennedy has opened up to Squash Mad about the horrific health nightmare that has afflicted her since she shot to stardom in Birmingham in August.

Kennedy, the world No.9, travels to Zurich today (October 18) for the Grasshopper Cup and will face either Frenchwoman Marie Stephan or Alexandra Fuller of South Africa in the second round on Thursday evening.

She hopes that match will mark the end of a horrendous period in which she first suffered a hamstring injury and food poisoning in Houston at the South Western Open, followed by her “worst ever flare-up” of ulcerative colitis, a chronic inflammatory bowel condition she has suffered from for the last six years.

Kennedy returned from Houston on September 9 and was bed-bound, unable to eat or drink properly, suffering with severe abdominal pain, loss of bladder control and internal bleeding. She was in and out of hospital for a week.

She travelled to Cairo for the Egyptian Open on 19 September – something she now admits was “a really bad decision” – and lost to Melissa Alves in four games in the second round.

She came home, returned to bed and on doctor’s advice pulled out of the US Open. She has spent the ensuing weeks in recovery, only venturing tentatively back on court with coach Ben Ford last weekend for the first time.

Kennedy was first diagnosed with ulcerative colitis whilst in freshman year at Harvard University. She was forced to change her diet and has had to take five different medications daily ever since. They mostly keep the condition in remission, but she has had four or five bad lapses since then, with the post-Commonwealth Games case “definitely the worst of the lot,” she says.

The 25-year-old said: “Winning the gold was the best thing ever and I was feeling on top of the world. There was a lot of media attention and it was such an incredible whirlwind.

“I flew straight to America to coach at an all-girls’ camp at my sponsors Open Squash. I was actually feeling really good going into my first tournament in Houston and was hoping to build on the momentum of the Games. I felt really positive in training. My body and mind felt good.”

After receiving a bye, she played fellow Englishwoman Jasmine Hutton in round two and, despite winning in straight games (including a bagel in the second) Kennedy slipped at one point and fell to the floor.

“I woke up in the middle of the night, went to the bathroom and could feel that my hamstring had gone,” she said. The next day, at one love and 8-2 down against Nour El Tayeb, she conceded the match.

“But then the real nightmare began,” she said. “I had picked up food poisoning and by the time I got home my ulcerative colitis had flared up. I couldn’t get out of bed, except to go to hospital. I hadn’t eaten or drunk anything but I got a good draw at the Egyptian Open so I just went. It was a really bad decision.”

Gina will be returning to action at this week’s Grasshopper Cup in Zurich

Since that fateful trip she has recuperated at home with her parents in Kent, only venturing back on to court a few days ago at Bexley Squash Club to prepare for the Grasshopper Cup.

She admits that her physically and emotionally overwhelming experience in Birmingham and her lack of rest time afterwards were “most probably” connected to her ensuing health problems.

“I wouldn’t be surprised,” she admitted. “I was doing everything, trying to fit in training sessions, the travelling, coaching and media commitments, I was on some kind of manic mode. I just didn’t give myself a break so I don’t think it is a coincidence that my body just collapsed.

“I’ve never experienced emotions like that [in Birmingham]. It’s not the real world. I met Denise Lewis, Dame Kelly Holmes and even Zoe Ball – who said she was so privileged to meet me and had been glued to my match [the women’s final against Hollie Naughton]!

“The Games are just such a bubble. Everyone is just on this high. You meet so many lovely people every minute of the day, then you go back into London and everyone is just miserable!”

Ahead of her return tournament, she said: “My recovery was made worse because I was given the wrong meds, but I’m now on the correct medication and I really hope it will keep it in remission.

“I couldn’t even go for a walk and just had to focus on regaining bladder control. It was really bad but I’ve got through the worst of it. It’s so nice to feel like I’m back to full health now.”

Squash Mad: Thank you, Gina, for sharing the news of these health issues with our readers. We wish you all the luck in the world in keeping the problems at bay. You continue to be an inspiration for a generation of young players and we wish you every success in Zurich and beyond.

Pictures courtesy of PSA World Tour  


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