How one Man Conquered Four Knee Surgeries to Climb Europe’s Highest Mountain with St Mary's
Over recent years, Phil Price has had a tough time with injuries. Tearing his right Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) in 2012, was the first of many battles that threatened to end his active lifestyle. Four surgeries later, his prospects of completing physically demanding challenges looked bleak.
However, as Programme Director for Strength and Conditioning Science at St Mary’s University, Twickenham, Phil was able to use sport science, the expertise of his colleagues and the state of the art facilities to not only recover but to also strengthen; allowing him to take on Europe’s highest peak.
Phil hopes his personal challenge will inspire others recovering from injury to reach their own peaks, and encourage students considering studying sport sciences to see how they can make a positive impact on people’s lives.
We caught up with him to find out more about his journey.
What gave you the confidence to reach the summit of Mount Elbrus?
Working with all the experts at St Mary’s and the state of the art facilities really allowed me to improve in all needed areas. Endurance was my weakest link because I had never trained for an endurance challenge before. However, by making changes to my strength and conditioning, nutrition, and rehabilitation, my physiological test scores improved rapidly.
What checks did you do to ensure you were fit and ready to undertake a challenge in such a harsh climate?
The Sport Science and Exercise Physiology teams tested my cardiovascular fitness by looking at my performance on the VO2 max test and by using our altitude chamber to help me adjust to being above 5000m. I definitely felt less dizzy every time I went above 5000m, which translated well to my overall performance on the mountain.
In order to maintain your energy on the climb, what food supplies did you need to take with you?
I left understanding what my body needed, thanks to a body and diet analysis with St Mary’s’ Nutrition team. I ate lots of carbohydrate-rich foods, like flapjacks and malt loaf – and plenty of hearty Russian meals at basecamp. I had to make sure I was properly hydrated too, despite the freezing temperatures you sweat a lot due to the amount of equipment you carry and the physical exertion.
How important was rehabilitation in recovering from your knee surgeries?
Vitally important. Although my knees had been surgically repaired, movement inefficiencies at my foot and hip, meant my knees were still at risk. Your joints, muscles and ligaments need to be conditioned to deal with the volume of physical stress you will encounter during the climb. Our Sports Rehabilitation team did an analysis on my movements and gave me some essential exercises to get me ready for the challenge.
You must have been nervous; how did you prepare yourself psychologically?
As I had never done anything like this before, I was initially a bit apprehensive. I didn’t know how my knees would tolerate a 12-hour climb or if I would be struck by altitude sickness. Working with our Sports Psychology team helped put all potential risks into perspective and develop solutions if anything unexpected did happen, this really helped on the mountain!
In order to reach your peak, you needed to get stronger as well as recover, how did you achieve this?
I’m quite strong because of my experience in rugby and weightlifting but I was not conditioned to use that strength over long durations in a mountain context. Our Strength and Conditioning team helped me work on building this. We focussed on strengthening for downhill walking and tailored my conditioning sessions to mimic the unpredictable nature of a mountain.
Why do you think someone should consider studying a degree in sport, health and nutrition sciences?
I think everyone should study a subject that they are passionate about, especially where they can learn skills to help others. A lot of people don’t understand how these subjects apply to real world situations, so I wanted to share my story to help people considering a degree like this see the impact they can make and what careers are out there.
What advice do you have for someone who has battling injuries that wants to come back to physical activity?
Just take time to reflect and be self-aware of your capabilities and what you want to achieve. Set short and long-term goals, find a strategy to achieve them and then never give up.
Was it all worth it?
Absolutely. The views of the mountains and the feeling of reaching the top were incredible. Recovery from injury and trying to improve your performance is an astonishing journey of self-discovery which should never end.