SIVA SUBRAMANIUM – FROM DISASTER TO TRIUMPH (PART ONE)

Picture of By Jesse Engelbrecht

By Jesse Engelbrecht

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When Sivasangari Subramaniam converted her seventh championship ball in April’s PSA Gold London Squash Classic at Alexandra Palace, the elation and relief on her face only hinted at the savage adversity she had overcome on the path to that victory.

Less than two years earlier, just a few weeks before she was due to fly to Birmingham to represent Malaysia in the 2022 Commonwealth Games, Subramaniam was dragged from a burning car by the emergency services after it had been hit by a one-tonne truck.

She suffered severe spinal and facial injuries which required multiple surgeries – but the psychological effects of such a traumatic experience, and the tortuously slow recovery, were to prove just as debilitating. She experienced post-traumatic stress and anger issues, even after she’d eventually returned to the squash court.

MENTAL COACHING AT THE LONDON SQUASH CLASSIC

On the long, undulating journey from the accident to the incredible wins over seven-time world champion Nour El Sherbini, world no.4 Nele Gilis and world no.2 Hania El Hammamy in London, specialist mental coaching with Sport Mind founder Jesse Engelbrecht was a vital source of support. She states: “I played my best squash at the London Classic and a big part of that has been the mental aspect and the work I have done with Jesse.”

Subramaniam – known on the PSA World Tour as ‘Siva’ – was 23 years old and had reached a career high of world no.16 by June 2022. The great Jonah Barrington had labelled her one of the most promising players in the women’s game. The car accident brutally interrupted that upward trajectory.

She recalls:

“I had a lot of facial injuries and the main injury was in my neck where I had a fracture in my C1 (the uppermost part of the cervical spine which makes up the atlantoaxial joint). It was very dangerous and there was a big doubt whether I could play squash again as I had a fracture of the bone. I made the decision not to have the surgery on my neck, as if I did my neck rotation would be super limited. So I had to be in a neck brace for two or three months to let it heal by itself – which, thank God, it did.”

The distress of missing the Commonwealth Games was the first mental hurdle to overcome, but worse were insensitive comments from others about her future career prospects. “All that time people were telling me I’d never come back again and that getting my full range of movement was impossible,” she recalls. “It was very tough and I was not sure I would ever make it.”

LACKING CONFIDENCE

She eventually returned to Cornell University in New York to complete her senior year and resumed training tentatively in January 2023. Two months later, she lost to Columbia’s Simmi Chan in the final of the Ramsay Cup. It was a performance way beneath her pre-accident capability.

“I had no confidence and I felt very weird on court,” she says. “I couldn’t properly rotate my neck and I just wasn’t sure if the comeback would work. Nothing seemed right and it was very strange.”

At this stage, Siva had already reached out for psychological support but “failed to click” with the clinician hired to help her, which left her feeling even more disconnected. It was then that Cornell’s Head of Squash, former world no.1 David Palmer, referred Siva to SportMind founder Jesse. They met for the first time on 23 August – and it was to prove a turning point in Subramaniam’s career.

In part two of our profile on SportMind’s work with Sivasangari Subramaniam, we’ll take an in-depth look at the processes Jesse used to help her recover from the mental impact of the accident, rebuild her confidence and discover levels of performance that exceeded her wildest expectations.

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Jesse Engelbrecht

SportMind Founder,
High Performance Coach,
& Squash Professional

A professional and dedicated coach full of enthusiasm and passion for helping and teaching.

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