Climber Molly Thompson-Smith on her battle back from hand surgery to World Championships
By Mark Ashenden
Last Updated: 06/09/18 11:12am
The sight of Molly Thompson-Smith's hand after surgery for three ruptured fingers in January was gut-wrenching and eye-watering.
Not the greatest scenario for someone who hated needles, couldn't tie up her own hair and most importantly, was unable to climb for a very long time.
This week she is not only back on the wall but competing at the World Championships in Innsbruck and feeling great again.
The 20-year-old Sky Sports Scholar from London reveals all the tears and cheers from a very emotional year...
If you told me in December I'd go from Britain's first female lead climbing World Cup podium to full ruptures of three pulleys (a medical first for a surgery to fix that), four months of no climbing and many tears, to competing in my second World Championships feeling the best I ever have, I'd have said you were absolutely mad!
It's been a whirlwind year. After the best end to the season I could've imagined with a bronze medal, things took an unfortunate turn when I fully ruptured my A2, 3 and 4 pulleys (the cable-like sheath that holds your tendon down against your finger bone).
I heard all three snap down the middle and I knew that my climbing trip to Spain five days later was off and, after seeing through my cloud of denial, probably all of the 2018 season.
I had surgery in January and was determined to do all I could to start the 2018 lead season in July. I was told it was ambitious, but possible… and knowing it was possible was all I needed to hear.
Looking back I'm glad I had hopes I could perform there - it motivated me and without it I'd have struggled to see a point in getting off of the sofa some days.
It started as a novelty; having people help me cook and hang out with me, and not having to work hard after an exhausting year of training and competitions.
But after a while that novelty wore off and I wanted to tie my hair up myself, open a door handle without having to think about the least painful way to do it, not having to carry a hot water bottle because the cold sent tremendous pain through my stitched up, half-open finger, and, more than anything, I missed climbing.
I started picking things up and the gym became my second home! I worked so hard to get back all the strength I'd lost from sitting doing not a lot.
I began climbing with my non-injured hand 20 days after surgery, and would go to the wall most days to go around and climb the same very easy problems just to keep the feeling of climbing natural.
It was basic stuff but so important to me and really kept me going. When I went to the wall people always asked how I was and how my finger was doing. I replied with my rehearsed fake smile and words on how great everything was and how I was enjoying the learning experience!
I look back and see there were so many valuable things that came about from this experience, but I definitely would have preferred a different teaching method!
I was at the first World Cup of the season like I'd hoped to be, but to my disappointment I was only watching and feeling pretty hopeless. I wanted so badly to be back and I'd failed and it was so tough seeing how much I was still playing catch-up with every competition I watched.
Again, if I could go back and talk to myself at that time, what I'd have to say would be very different.
I underestimated the magnitude of the injury and the work and more importantly time it would take to come back and how little I could influence the healing powers of time.
I never realised how much of a rollercoaster injuries are; the countless short-lived mini victories, shortly clouded by the next frustration are draining. I'd have days were I would leap forwards in my finger strength, only to find that the pain was too much, or my finger felt too weak to repeat that exercise a few days later.
There'd be tears of happiness and frustration, my head still thinking I was capable of things I did last year and my body just not having any of it.
But over the three months in Innsbruck training this summer, the improvement was immense with my finger and body now feeling healthy enough to try any climb put in front of me.
It's hard to see the progress you make yourself, but for other people who are there watching and supporting, it's much more obvious, and having those people support me and remind me of this (and also remind me to be patient) was essential.
I'm proud of myself for getting through this. It really tested me and my relationship with climbing but I believe I'm a better climber now, and all I want to do is show people that I'm not that injured girl with the picture of her finger cut in half on Instagram anymore, and I'm now the new & (hopefully) improved Molly Thompson-Smith!
Special thanks to SKY for the continued faith and support through a long-term injury where no one knew how long recovery would take. To Mike Hayton the brilliant surgeon who did wonders with my finger, and Claire Harding my physio who listened to all the moaning through rehab and got as excited as I did when my DIP joint moved like 1mm more than before!
Also to my parents (Angela and Tony) and my boyfriend Jan for being there through all of the ups and downs.
The World Championships are this week and whatever happens, I'm over the moon I'm going to be tying in to a rope and trying my hardest again!