From hospital bed to gold medal: The comeback of a squash hero, Latest Others News - The New Paper

From hospital bed to gold medal: The comeback of a squash hero

“One more point. One more point. One more point.”

The refrain in Sivasangari Subramaniam’s head is desperate yet also defiant. It’s the fifth game of a 64-minute final which is a test of the players’ resolve and the expertise of their fitness trainers. The Malaysian, 24, loses the first game of the Asian Games women’s singles squash final. She loses the third. She’s been scrambling all night, behind all match, but now in the fifth it’s even worse.

She’s down 3-5, then 4-8, then 7-9.

Defeat is about to hold her hand. 

Except minutes later she’s the gold medallist, having beaten Hong Kong’s Chan Sin Yuk 8-11, 15-13, 10-12, 11-9, 12-10.

And here’s the thing. In the matter of comebacks, Subramaniam, who studies at Cornell University, has a PhD. Forget squash matches and finals, her recovery last year was more profound. It came from a hospital bed.

A serious car accident last year left Subramaniam with fractures on her face but more frighteningly a fracture of her C1 vertebrae. “I didn’t know,” she later told the Professional Squash Association Foundation in an interview, “my neck was this important till this happened.” For two months she wore a neck collar and often needed her mother to give her a bath.

But athletes, who exist only to move, aren’t conditioned to sit still. “In the fourth week,” she said, “I went to the Sports Institute and asked them if I could just start some rehab or do some exercises.” The comeback had commenced.

Thursday’s final, against Chan, who had beaten Subramaniam the last time they played in five games, is brutal. Squash usually is. It’s a relentless examination of the hamstrings, quadriceps, glutes, even as their blurring wristwork would be admired by any magician’s society.

In a glass cube, they square off. Chan flexes her tired legs. Subramaniam, a tiny figure, wipes her sweaty hands on the wall. They play silently but for the occasional shout. Every breath has to be carefully preserved.

In January this year, Subramaniam returned to her sport. To leave a game is to lose your conditioning and watch others gallop ahead. She was No.16 then, she is No.37 now and for athletes this is their life: Fall, rise, dip, ascend. Sport promises nothing, but athletes pledge effort. And this is what Subramaniam does in the fifth game.

“You just run, pick up every ball, just play,” she says. “And you know, anything happens. Even if you lose, you’re losing by giving everything you can.”

Athletes clutch onto anything they find. Hope, a look from a coach, a lucky hair tie (Singapore sprinter Shanti Pereira has one). Subramaniam just held onto a memory of where she’d come from. “When I was down, all I was thinking of was last year. If I can go through that challenge (of the accident), I think I can do anything.”

Every athlete, like her, believes they have a champion in them, but there are only so many gold medals on offer. Saurav Ghosal, of India, painfully finds that out again. In singles the distinguished veteran of 37 has three Asian Games bronzes and one silver and then on Thursday night gold eludes him again. He loses in the men’s final 11-9, 9-11, 5-11, 7-11 to the 25-year-old Malaysian Ng Eain Yow.

It is not his time, but it is Subramaniam’s, who won silver in singles in 2018. From 4-8, she makes it 9-9, then 10-9, lets a match point go, wins the game and gold 12-10, throws her racket on the floor and bends over in exhausted relief. Comeback completed, 470 days after her accident.

But her work isn’t done. To the amazement of Malaysian reporters, she says she is immediately flying to Philadelphia to play the US Open on Saturday. “Well, at least I’ll be going with two gold medals (Malaysia won the women’s team event). I’m not going there crying because I lost today. So at least I’ll be sleeping peacefully on the flight”.

As for any celebrations, she says, they will have to wait. This champion who was chasing one more point still has a few more to play in October. 

asian gamesSquashmalaysia