By Neha Aggarwal
It was a bright day on 24th January 2017 for Elizabeta Samara until the first three games against Sofia Polcanova in their Champions League match. Samara lead 2-1 and in the fourth game, she lead 7-6. She was pretty high on confidence. She started the next point with a big backhand, turned to play her bigger forehand when she suddenly felt an excruciating pain in her left knee which brought her down to the floor. When a medical timeout did not help too much, she knew that she will have to face her biggest fear.
That very moment she had the answer: knee surgery. “I had the pain since a few months but I was continuing on injections and pain killers, as I had decided to get the knee surgery done in the summer. However, what happened against Polcanova was unexpected. The pain was so much that I could not move any further. I was scared,” stated Samara as she recalled the horrifying day.
The doctors diagnosed the problem as: Tear of the posterior horn from the internal meniscus.
In simpler terms, the cartilage at the back part of the knee was torn.
“Just a few years ago I had the same problem in my right knee but it was not so deep. This one was so bad that I immediately rushed back to my hometown Constanta and got the surgery done the day after,” explained Samara.
That horrifying moment
The surgery last for around two hours, but Samara has more to say about the most horrifying moment during the entire process.
“I was in the waiting room for the surgery and had to wait for almost 12 hours without food and water before they took me to the operation theater. When I entered the room, I was waiting on the operating table for around 15 minutes, all alone. I was laying down, thinking bad things. Bad bad things. The room had so many mirrors, so I could see myself. My heart started pounding. The bad thoughts about my career, my game and my body, took a toll on me. I was sweating. I was so nervous that I had to ask the nurse to give me an injection to calm me down,” recalled Samara with a teary eye.
The surgery was performed by Dr.Bajenescu, who also works with many handball athletes in Romania. Samara’s physiotherapist is Romeo Linte, and together with the doctor he designed a recovery program which helped Samara get back to the sport in just few weeks.
The painful recovery
“The surgery lasted two hours but trust me, the recovery process was long and painful,” admitted Samara.
“I started the recovery process after two days of my surgery, for six hours each day. First, I had to start with learning how to walk normally. Once walking was not a problem, I started with exercises for the knee with my own body weight. Gradually, I moved to the resistance band and then I started lifting weights. In the beginning, I could not even lift one kilogram, but I worked hard. I went up to lifting 10 kgs in a few weeks,” she explained.
“All the exercises were in very slow movements, with less weights. I was doing the same exercises everyday with more repetitions each day,” she added.
However, because of the injury, Samara’s ankle was also affected. Thus she had to work on that too. After a few days, she added strengthening of the hamstring to the regime. Once the quadriceps and hamstring started to gain strength, Eliza added the abductors.
“Many table tennis players don’t pay attention to the abductors. Its a very important muscle,” she said.
Apart from these exercises, Samara had to undergo physiotherapy as well. She would do cold water fermentation and used a device called Compex, which is an electronic muscle stimulator to help her recover fast.
“I started playing table tennis after two weeks. I did some blocking, and serves. It felt like a gift. I had missed the game so much. I was so happy to just go play slowly,” stated Samara.
Check out some of her recovery exercises below (Video credits, Eliza herself).
Such injuries can take a toll on an athlete’s mind and heart. It can get lonely as the athlete is forced to be away from the sport for a long time. “After the surgery, I was so depressed. All other players were taking part in various competitions all over the world, and there I was doing physiotherapy back home. It was a very hard time for me. I was doing my recovery six days a week, but could not play the sport that I love and live for,” she said.
“I was afraid and very hesitant. My physio helped me every session. My teammates, coaches and club members, all supported me so well. Their moral support and best wishes raised my confidence and helped me keep faith for a quick recovery.”- Elizabeta Samara.
The recovery was done well, Samara works hard and with such a great support system, she successfully came back the arena on 29th March 2017. “I had match in French league which I won. I was missing the emotions of winning a match. Mentally, I was not 100% sure about winning, but I guess I am very strong in my mind and heart,” said Samara.
Samara lost in the third round at the ITTF Challenge, Slovenia Open and is now all set to compete at the Zagreb (Croatia) Open. Ahead of the Liebherr 2017 World Championships, she is treating these two events as a test for her improvement. But feelings of doubt do creep in as she was away from international scene for a couple of months.
“It’s normal to be nervous and little unsure after some months of absence. I am feeling good now without experiencing any pain and I hope that during the next competition in Zagreb I will get closer to the desired shape. My performance at Düsseldorf will also depend on the draw, with a little bit of luck I may reach superior stages. At the same time, I am aware that some very dangerous players may surprise even in first rounds.”- Elizabeta Samara
Samara is back in shape, recovered physically and mentally. But the World Championships require a unique approach. She still has a few weeks to prepare.
Keep an eye on her in Düsseldorf. If this very hard working and determined lady pulls off some surprises for herself and Romania, I would not be surprised .