World Mental Health Day: Navigating the Tricky Game of Recovery

World Mental Health Day: Navigating the Tricky Game of Recovery
A tearful Beiwen being wheeled away after her injury in Tokyo.

In the world of sports, where every second counts and every step can make a difference, keeping mentally positive is not just important, it’s essential to the recovery process from injury.

Beiwen Zhang‘s Achilles rupture at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games forced an end to her campaign prematurely. In her own words, she emphasised the power of positivity during the bad days. She practiced positivity daily, believing it would gradually become second nature.

“Don’t dwell on the uncertain future during your darkest moments,” she said. “You can only control today.”

Asked whether the physical or mental aspect of the recovery was more challenging, Beiwen pointed towards the latter. While the physical side would improve over time, the mental side remained unpredictable. Through it all, Beiwen discovered her unyielding determination and work ethic, traits intrinsic to athletes, calling herself a “hard-worker”. She even found the silver lining in her situation, mastering new skills and becoming adept at navigating her surroundings on crutches and cruising around on a knee scooter.

Her advice to those facing similar trials was clear: “Don’t rush it. Focus on rest, mood, nutrition and doing your best.”

Her triumphant return to competition at the All England Open in 2022, nine months after her accident, served as testament to her resilience.

Beiwen learnt some new fun skills during her recovery.

At the African Championships in 2020, Georges Julien Paul ruptured his left Achilles during the quarterfinals. Forced out of competition for at least eight months, the 27-year-old struggled with the initial shock of having to retire from a crucial match.

Needing six to eight months for recovery seemed interminable, but the Mauritian adopted a step-by-step approach and looked up to sporting legends like David Beckham, Kevin Durrant and the late Kobe Bryant, who got through the same injury.

During the darkest days, Paul contemplated retirement and questioned the future of his sporting career.

But his family rallied behind him, assuring him if he could come back, he was a true fighter. Determined to prove them right, he embarked on a journey of physical and mental transformation. Gaining weight during inactivity and facing limitations in workouts, he persevered for 12 months to regain his full fitness.

“I couldn’t do any intense workouts. I wanted to get back in shape. I needed to get into the rhythm of playing tournaments,” Paul said.

During the downtime, Paul learned to strengthen his mental resolve and reignited his passion for the sport. He understood progress came from small steps and that there was always light at the end of the tunnel.

“The target was to play at the Commonwealth Games and I did it. I’m still fighting for the African spot at the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.”

Beiwen and Paul faced the daunting mental challenges of Achilles ruptures head-on. This World Mental Health Day is a reminder that resilience and a positive mindset could conquer even the darkest moments.

We salute these fighters on this special day.

Paul working towards an Olympic spot at Paris 2024 now.