Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Upbeat Ellis undeterred by knee injury (written for Athletics Weekly 07/08).

European 800m bronze-medallist Sam Ellis is refusing to lose his faith and sense of humour, despite having to undergo diagnostic surgery on his left knee this week, writes Nicola Bamford.

The 25 year-old Sheffield City and Barnsley AC member, who has not raced since last September when on team GB duty at the Norwich Union international, was experiencing his best training to date up until Christmas when, shortly after the New Year, he developed a sharp pain in his knee during a routine training run. The Alan Hasty-coached runner has since endured a catalogue of unsuccessful attempts to cure the ailment, but insists on staying in a light-hearted mood. “I’m sure when the knee’s clear, I’ll be back. I was depressed at first especially because of my last summer and was looking forward to this season, but I’ve now lightened up and realised I’m not going to be racing this summer.”

Further emphasising Ellis’ buoyant attitude to adversity, Hasty proudly states, “It’s great how positive he’s been; it’s just so frustrating for him after such a successful breakthrough summer.”
Ellis’ positive frame of mind does not reflect the outlook expected of an athlete who has had to go through many ineffective ultrasounds, MRI-scans, cyst-draining, epidurals and numerous cortisone injections. “I’m probably half-full of cortisone now!” joked Ellis on his extensive list of treatment , “I’ve been through various doctors and physio’s and still no-one really knows the cause of the injury – that’s why I’m having surgery. It’s been a stop-start past 5 months, every time the cortisone numbed the pain and I’d get excited and try to run, then pain would come back again.”

Fortunately, as part of the World Class Performance Programme, Ellis at least doesn’t have to take the financial strain of his treatment, but adds, “It’s annoying to get injured now after trying to get the funding after all these years, but I’m really grateful for the help.” Ellis plans to utilise the medical support from the Sheffield and Loughborough English Institutes of Sport, for regular treatment and advice in his battle to regain his health.

Playing down the seriousness of his injury woes, Ellis continued, “I’m trying to do whatever I can without crippling myself. At its best, I can do 60m sprints, but at its worst, I need help pulling my trousers on! I normally like walking in the Lake District but I can’t walk anymore than a mile and a half right now; I need to hop back.”

The 2004 AAA 800m champion, whose personal best of 1:45.67 last summer catapulted him to number 44(?) in the World Rankings, has however, refused to concede defeat by maintaining his sprinting, gym and weights routines. Despite the injury preventing Ellis from doing any cycling work and also inhibiting his running to a high degree; the Sheffield Hallam University architecture graduate explains, “I’ve kept sane by doing lots of part-time jobs – mostly from a seated position of course! – book illustrations and teaching in the local junior school, but I’ve also done a couple of outward-bound cycle trips with the kids.”

Eagle-eyed athletics fans may have even spotted the likeable Yorkshire lad turning his hand to javelin competitions of late; for such is his desire to keep involved in the sport and be part of his team’s exploits, Ellis has earned valuable points at the last two British Athletics League matches, launching the spear into the respectable mid-50m range. Could we see a change in event for the two-lap international? “No,” Ellis laughed, “I’ve always thrown the javelin for various clubs; I don’t train for it, I just pick it up and throw it!

On his charge’s future, Hasty asserts, “the target’s still the Olympics next year; we’re hoping to start normal winter training in September.”Evidently a team player and survivor, the optimistic Ellis has continued to go to almost every session during his lengthy injury lay-off in order to stick to routine and maintain his enthusiasm for the sport; a decision which is proving pivotal in his mental state during these testing times. Regardless of his recent misfortune, Ellis is unmistakably a tough nut to crack and injury-permitting, will most certainly make his mark once again if his mentality is anything to go by.

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