James Willstrop: I’ve got mixed feelings about saying goodbye to the crutches

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AFTER eight weeks I’m ridding myself of the crutches, which is good and bad. In a funny way I’ve grown accustomed and attached to them and they’ve opened all sorts of interesting doors. I still keep them close by in the event of emergency.

Anthony Sher famously played King Richard III on crutches in Shakespeare’s play in 1983 and wrote about it in a book, and it’s been pertinent reading over the last weeks. The hunchbacked, limping monarch is affiliated to this part of the world and the city of York claims him vehemently as a son. During the play Shakespeare mentions ‘Pomfret’, the old name for Pontefract, several times. So the crutches, incapacitation and the geographical links have fired an interest in this controversial monarch and his injuries of late.

I’ve become quite canny with the sticks, moving to a more vicious pace as the weeks have passed. Like Richard I have learnt to get my own way, using the crutches as I needed them to suit, maybe not quite with the same ruthlessness.

Sher recounted in the book the physical battles he faced playing the part in that way. He made sure he was in shape, seeking advice from physios and osteopaths, and documented his concerns with possible injury after snapping his achilles a year prior to that in another play. He addressed some fascinating comparisons between athlete and actor.

Effectively those professionals who take on the role of Richard must walk around for six months with a severe limp, or as Sher decided, on crutches. 25 hours a week assuming a dangerously contorted gait and posture is sure to cause horrendous imbalances, depending on how far the actor emphasises the limp and the hunchback, a visible effect of the King’s scoliosis. It’s one of the most demanding parts in theatre.

I have always maintained that the off court work my physio does with me is crucial, more than ever now, something that seemed equally important to Sher. No doubt Richard himself would have benefited from some of the expertise I am lucky to receive.

The first six weeks post op had gone smoothly enough, and at week seven and eight, Alison had me simply standing with weight on the bad leg for the first time. After five or six days of continual improvement, the hip relapsed and suddenly I could hardly move. I reflexively panicked slightly as it was so acute and sudden, and worse than before the operation; all the more bizarre when the recovery had been going well.

After three or four days it had settled with Alison’s treatments, and she felt it could have been a reaction from a viral infection or merely part of the process of recovering from invasive surgery.

After such a trauma it’s unlikely everything will be perfect.

A week ago we were back over to Manchester for the first consultation with Max Fehily, the surgeon, who was happy. His positive attitude is encouraging and he confidently granted us to push on and test it further in the gym. More exercises, more walking, more intensity, but no more Richard. The crutches had to go.

Since then I began work on the static bike and stepper, and am enjoying the feeling of sweating again. Serious strides are being made at arm-only swimming, and when that finds its way onto the Olympic programme I will have to aim for medals. The routine is to attack the pool in the mornings, churning out the lengths, which has the rejuvenating effect of de-cluttering the head too.

The next step will be hitting a few squash balls, sedately.

On the way back up from London on Sunday I saw a fellow with duty free bags from Hong Kong, clearly just off a Heathrow flight and totally exhausted, sprawled across the table on the train. Aah, those days of jet lag and travel! I realised, as the World Championships got underway in Qatar, how I was almost missing those overnight flights and airport queues.

My old school, Ackworth, is experiencing a current reformation in regards to squash. A group of young superstar squash players based at Pontefract have all joined the school this term and the squash club are building links with them. The staff are very keen to push the sport and to accommodate their new talent the school are looking into significantly expanding their squash facilities. I greatly acknowledge the way the school supported me as I embarked on my squash career. It was an atmosphere in which I was able to absorb school life and play squash almost semi professionally at the same time. I realise now not many schools would have facilitated this.

The men’s World Championships are still being streamed on psasquashtv.com until the final on Friday. A full report will follow next week.

The women’s World Team Championships take place in Canada at the beginning of December and the women’s World Championships are set for Cairo following that.