My season’s secret weapon!

The first week of May marked the last of my competitive tournaments for the squash season (insert dance of joy here). Not only was my body prepared for a serious rest, but my brain was quite ready for a break from the competitive squash scene as well. When you start at the end of September and push through to the first of May you are bound to feel the effects emotionally and physically. That said, I am more than grateful to have achieved burn out! Burn out is a far better option than to not be out at all. To be quite honest, I wasn’t sure if I was even going to be able to compete at all this year. In that respect having the opportunity to get physically and emotionally drained by it all is a blessing. This year, I am able to give that blessing a name – Derek Vandenbrink.

I knew Derek as a member at my club. His wife picked up the game first, then his two daughters started to get active, then, he too got nipped by the squash bug. As a general rule, I tend not to ask people what they do as a profession. They are at the club; this is their wind-down space, it’s their social time, this is where people escape from the day-to-day grind of it all. Due to all of this and more, I tend not to bring work up and therefore did not know what Derek did to bring home the proverbial bacon.

I had just arrived back from a very physically challenging tournament (The Howe Cup in Philadelphia). I played in both the doubles division as well as the “A” division in singles. Admittedly, I was in over my head playing #1 on our team where I would have been significantly tested by the 5 spot players!! That, and playing in two difficult draws in one weekend, resulted in me being rather gimpy upon my return to the club for work the following Monday. My knee was twice its normal size with swelling. Derek noticed my laboured gait and started asking physio-type questions. Where does it hurt? How does it hurt? When does it hurt the most? What movements aggravate it the most etc. etc.? I gave him the quick and dirty background on my knee issues. Meniscus, cartilage, tibia twist, patella tracking disorder, arthritis, and inflammation, blah blah blah. Mostly in the right knee, but some in the left as well. I had of course been through the assessments, worked with a few physiotherapists, been to the sports docs and was doing what I could do to alleviate the situation as much as possible. At this point, I was frustrated with the same old answers and the same old exercises and most of the “there’s not much that can be done” comments. Derek kindly offered that if I was open to it, he would be happy to do an assessment and see if he could help in any way. At this point I was almost ready to try anything, so we booked a date for the following day.

I show up ready, but not really knowing what to expect. Derek proceeded to take me through several movement and mobility tests (notably more than most of the physiotherapists had done to this point). He was thorough and detailed in his evaluation of my movement functionality and noted where some issues could be stemming from. I was immediately put at ease by his attention to detail and the little things that he pointed out along the way, such as my lack of wrist and ankle mobility.

After the assessment, he walked me through some things he saw that, if worked on, could alleviate some of the pain I was experiencing in my knees and hips. Who knew that if my ankle didn’t flex past a certain point, puts additional stress on my knee, etc?? Not me! We discussed what I had done with physio so far, what worked and what didn’t. This is where I was perfectly honest (something about him spurs one to comfortably spill the truth). This was not my first rodeo, I was well aware that stretching is important, rolling of the muscles is a good thing, doing strength and conditioning is essential for overall health and can prevent certain overuse injuries. I know all of this. I will do some of it (not very consistently), but what I will NOT do is work out alone. I just can’t bring myself to do it. Regardless of how many times I have that internal dialog, somehow the “eh forget it” side of me wins out. At the end of my truth spill and some further conversation, it was decided we would give this working together thing a shot. He would provide a daily program for stretch & mobility and we would work out together once a week on strength and stability etc.

Derek not only understood what I physically needed to do to lessen my discomfort and get me stronger, he completely recognized my mindset. He tapped into my competitiveness and used it for good instead of evil. One element of his brilliance was to set me up on a Daily Performance Tracker that I would answer online. This tracked how much sleep I was getting, my vegetable intake, my pain levels, my daily exercises, and squash activity etc. This tool may seem pretty simple or even a bit intrusive to some – but this was a massive thing for me. Being accountable to someone other than myself made me actually DO IT.

Over the past few months, Derek has updated the program several times to ensure load management and adjust for specific competition dates, increase the challenge to accommodate for unforeseen injuries (sprained ankle) as well as to keep me from getting bored (essential). All this time he has been keeping me to task not only by being my workout buddy, but also by keeping me honest and thereby sticking to it (consistency is key).

I was very lucky to have found Derek, even luckier that he was willing to work with me. If you are interested in finding out more about Derek or if he could possibly help you, feel free to contact him via text @ 519-802-4311 or email @ derek@vancasey.com

I have been working with Derek for 7 months now. Without his ability to tap into my mindset, I am certain I would not have had a season. Instead, it ended in burn out. I am grateful to have hit the burn!

Thanks Derek. Now, let’s get me ready for next season!

– Nicole Garon

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