Murray cut a devastated figure in Melbourne (Picture: Getty Images)The Melbourne press room was stunned into silence.
Simply asked how he was feeling, an emotionally exhausted Andy Murray finally broke down.
He cried and left the packed room before returning to reconstruct the sorrow and frustration that had been coursing through his veins throughout a painful 18 months of desperately trying to resurrect his career.
The agony of the hip injury, the gut-punching feeling of every setback, the desperate desire for an end point; this was a man laying it all on the line after bottling it up and hiding it all away for so long.
While it’s hard to truly comprehend the sacrifice of professional athletes, Murray’s story is not unfamiliar.
Young men – with far fewer resources than the three-time Grand Slam champion – go through the same emotions and physical angst but perhaps without such an obvious support network.
University of Wolverhampton’s professor Tracey Devonport, a sport and exercise psychologist, tells Metro.co.uk: ‘For non-elite and recreational athletes, sporting pursuits can form a significant part of self-identity, with injury threatening identity and associated routines.
‘As such, it is unsurprising that injury can result in psychological, as well as physical consequences for young men. Research comparing athletes before and after injury suggests that common responses to long-term injuries include; lack of motivation, reduced self-esteem, low confidence, and low mood (depression, irritation, anger, frustration, anxiety) after injury.’
The link between physical and mental health is undeniable and, particularly for active people, suffering a long-term injury can have a wide-reaching impact on life as a whole.
Chris, a 26-year-old charity worker who broke his ankle when slipping on black ice, was a regular runner and football player but 14 months on from that ill-fated fall, there are few signs of improvement.
He tells Metro.co.uk: ‘I was told full recovery would take between 6-12 months and that I wouldn’t need physio. However I haven’t regained full movement and still can’t run properly. I used to run marathons and I doubt I’ll ever reach that level again which is really sad.
Murray cut a tearful figure (Picture: AP)‘It’s taken away my favourite form of exercise which was a real outlet for me, both physically and mentally. Running used to be my go to “let it all out” activity as well as a time when I think about things so I’m definitely more stressed now. It also means I can’t play football which is something used to do weekly. I see my friends less because of it so that’s a blow.
‘A couple of weeks ago I thought it was getting better but now it’s apparent it’s not. It’s just getting worse and causing me knee trouble and back trouble. It really has an impact on such a wide range of aspects of your life.
‘Your physical health goes down, your mental health goes down. Because you’re exercising less, physically you’re in less good shape and then mentally you’re less secure. It has a ripple effect.
‘You kind of semi learn to live with it but you know it’s not right.’
Murray was open with trust issues he faced with medical professionals. He found differing opinions and lavish promises in all corners of the globe but it’s worth remembering that few are privileged enough to look far and wide for treatment.
For most young Britons, you have one option: the NHS.
Governed by one medical opinion, it can be hard to put faith in doctors particularly when there has been little sign of recovery.
Chris continues: ‘I just think… the thing wasn’t managed well by them at all when it happened. I feel like it was completely misdiagnosed and mis-followed up.
Why Murray chose Sarah Muirhead-Allwood to do his hip resurfacing operation
Because she was honest. Over this period, I’ve spoken to a lot of people, different specialists and surgeons and stuff. They told me things were going to turn out better than what they had. I felt speaking to her, she told me the truth, and, “There’s absolutely no guarantees that you’ll get back to playing. You just have to see how it goes.”
It just felt right having spoken to her. I didn’t want to be told, “You’re going to come back and win Wimbledon in five months, and it’s going to be perfect.” Because I know that it’s not the case, and that nobody in their right mind could promise me that, because it’s not been done before.
I just felt, like, she told me the truth, honestly how she felt about it. She didn’t say to me, “Never try and play again.” It was, “Just be realistic and this might not work out. But what I can guarantee you is your pain will be gone.” And that’s happened. That’s why I went with her.
‘Anyone who has been in a decision making position has just been so ruthless. Just like very, “oh no you’ll be fine” and very like palming you away, not wanting to refer you for anything, not wanting to advocate surgery just telling you it will heal, it will take time. It’s really hard to trust what anyone says.
‘At the moment it’s really bad. I can’t sit properly. I can’t sit still. I can’t have my foot on the floor. It’s really bad at the moment. There were times when it wasn’t and I just couldn’t run. But now I just don’t know what is going on. It’s really uncomfortable, I get shooting pains, it’s hard to stand for any length of time.
‘It was a lot better at the end of last year like 10, 11 months in… I was always told six to 12 months. Within six to 12 months you’ll be 90/95% recovery and the rest will take a little time. At 10, 11 months I thought, “Well I don’t feel like I’m on my way to 90/95% but at least I am improving…” then I don’t know what’s been happening.
‘After about 13 months it’s just started going downhill again. Just hearing myself out loud is a realisation I need to do something.’
As was the case with Murray, the release of emotion in itself can be a positive step. Though he found talking to a sports psychologist relatively unhelpful given he still couldn’t play tennis, there was a clear sense of relief in subsequent gatherings at the Australian Open that the weight resting on his shoulders had been somewhat lifted.
His public outpouring may well have gone further than he realised.
Sport and exercise psychology consultant Hannah Winter tells Metro.co.uk: ‘When people speak openly about their lived experiences of life’s challenges it can be incredibly powerful. Sharing stories can encourage other people to seek help when needed and show people who might be experiencing a similar situation that they are not alone.
‘A traditional idea of masculinity can prevent men from speaking up when help is needed. Often men don’t ask for help until they are at crisis point. Therefore, all the work going in to try and shift that culture in society is really important so that everyone starts to see it as brave and strong to ask for help when it is needed.’
Chris admitted he had struggled to seek out emotional support from others but that Murray’s interview resonated with him.
‘I remember seeing the interview and it did strike a chord with me, too,’ Chris says. ‘Seeing him so upset like that… I felt for him because I don’t want him to never play again. I think it is good to see a prominent athlete to lay something on the table.
‘There’s relief in realising other people feel the same. It doesn’t make it any better but it does give you some kind of comfort. It’s nice to know that it’s not just me and I’m not having a disproportionate reaction.
Professor Devonport’s tips for managing long-term injuries
Tip 1. Maintain perspective. Taking part in sport and exercise may be one aspect of a person’s identity, but there are many other aspects to an individual’s identity such as a friend, a parent, a partner, a musician, an employee, an employer. Use the time to focus on another aspect of the self.
Tip 2. Gather resources to help you cope. The resources available include internal (personal) resources such as optimism, knowledge, experience, and confidence. External resources are found in our social context and include objects (such as rehabilitation equipment), conditions (such as time) and practical help or emotional support from others. Review existing resources, identify gaps, and look to fill those gaps. Do you fully understand your injury? Do you have the equipment to support rehabilitation? Do you have good friends and family around you to pick you up when feeling low?
Tip 3. Take time to reflect. We do not learn without reflection, so ensure you take time to reflect on how you cope. We can all develop coping habits, a particular way of coping that is not necessarily the best coping fit for the injury situation we face. How do you cope? Is it working? What alternatives are available to you? Through reflection we can maintain and strengthen our coping repertoire. You can also reflect on your sport. Many athletes note how they used injury as an opportunity to brush up on tactical skills, technical understandings, sports visualisation, and other sports related skills.
‘I need to channel it in the right way. Even if I don’t have everything he has available but if he can get it fixed then I need to do something about it. I can still act on it.’
Positive, affirmative action is important in any injury recovery.
In my own case, a glute injury had left me virtually downing tools.
While I wouldn’t claim my problem was as serious as Murray or Chris’, the stop-start nature of recovery left me virtually sidelined for seven months.
With every step forward came two steps back. Knee and back issues crept in and my mental health took a major blow as my physical condition continued to deteriorate. By October last year, I’d given up even trying.
That Murray press conference at Melbourne Park played a role in taking more proactive measures to get back doing what I love: playing sport.
Back in the UK, I signed up to an eight-week training programme with F45 Camden to whip myself back into shape.
The functional group sessions have allowed me to rebuild the muscles I’d all but stopped using, while cutting the excess fat that came with cutting exercise.
Exercising with people of all different shapes and sizes, abilities and strengths leads to a relaxed atmosphere where you can just focus on you.
Gaining confidence to fully trust my body – and, in particluar, my glutes in exercises such as jumping squats – took time but with every passing session there were positives to take.
Six weeks down, I’ve cut 3.7% of my body fat – which now stands at 17% – while adding 1.2kg of muscle mass.
But more important than any change in appearance has been the uplifting feeling of being able to use exercise as a release. Any negative feelings from a crap or unfulfilling day at work can be thrashed out rather than left to fester, not to mention the sense of achievement from seeing marked improvements in my fitness.
Being pain-free in itself can be a wonderful feeling after months on end of discomfort and Murray’s outlook was almost unrecognisable when he made his first public appearance following surgery at The Queen’s Club a matter of weeks ago.
Given a new lease of life and able to enjoy regular activities with his wife and children, the 31-year-old’s attempted return to top-level tennis has become in many ways secondary.
Perhaps his outpouring of emotion will help many others do the same.