‘Lockdown breaks you’: A sportswoman on her physical decline

Evelyn Hanrahan says some outdoor sports should have been allowed under strict rules

Evelyn Hanrahan: ‘I won’t be going to play for two or three hours like I used to.’ Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Evelyn Hanrahan: ‘I won’t be going to play for two or three hours like I used to.’ Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

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“You’re kind of broken really. It does break you,” says Evelyn Hanrahan.

The international champion squash and tennis player, who is in her late 60s, blames lockdown for crippling back pain that she fears will prevent her from getting back to her usual active self.

“Normally, I’m very laid-back. But some days I’m just wondering is this ever going to end, am I ever going to get rid of this, and live normally again?”

Before the pandemic, Hanrahan, from Swords, north Co Dublin, played squash at least twice a week and tennis three or four times a week at the ALSAA sports club near the airport.

The former Fás supervisor, who retired two years ago after 24 years with the State training agency, played for Ireland as a squash master as well as singles and doubles tennis in the Leinster league.

“I was really enjoying retirement, I was loving it,” she says.

When her regular matches came to an end because of the Covid-19 restrictions, she “started to seize up”.

Lower back pain got increasingly worse, and the few options for exercise, such as walking, were no use in abating it, she found.

“My muscles were totally knotted up from not being used,” she says.

“Really, the problem then was I was not able to do anything. I tried doing some art and walking but it was very difficult.”

‘Lazing about’

Hanrahan kept asking herself what she could do next throughout the day, but ended up “just lazing about”.

The normally healthy eater – her husband grows the vegetables they eat at a nearby allotment – was drinking too much tea, eating too much cake and put on a few pounds. Then her sleep was affected. She could not turn in bed and was waking up every three hours.

“I’m normally a very good sleeper. If I didn’t set the clock for 10 o’clock in the morning, I wouldn’t get up,” she says.

Now, it is a case of one or two decent nights sleep a week, with others interrupted.

Not one for medication, she felt she “had no choice” but to go to the doctor, who prescribed her with anti-inflammatory pills, which she takes twice a day. She will also reach for painkillers when necessary.

“I’m okay for about an hour in the morning now, then it starts acting up again,” she says. “I can’t even sit on my armchair. I haven’t sat in it since Christmas, because it is too low. I need to sit on a high kitchen chair so I can get up out of it again.”

Nor can she do any cleaning or vacuuming around the house, which she notes means even less exercise.

Unforced error

Hanrahan believes some outdoor sports should have been allowed to continue during restrictions under strict rules, so older people could continue with their active lifestyles.

“Even if we could have done a little bit of what we were doing, this wouldn’t have happened,” she says.

“I don’t for the life of me know why they had to close the tennis altogether. There is one person on one side of the court and another on the other side of the court. It’s the same with the golf course. I can’t figure it out. You are out in the open.

“I think that is one thing they fell down on.”

With intensive physiotherapy, she is hoping to start back slowly at tennis once restrictions further ease but admits “it is going to be hard to get back to the way I was”.

“I won’t be going to play for two or three hours like I used to. I will have to start back at 10 minutes once or twice a week. I couldn’t possibly just run out and start again.

“It won’t be until September or October before I can get back to anywhere near to where I was. But I have to keep saying to myself there will be an end to this. I hope there will be an end to this.”