Volleyball star Sharone Vernon-Evans: 'I was in a helpless position'
Canadian back to full workouts with national team after suffering stress fracture in left shin bone
A hard lesson on the volleyball court has led to better choices in the kitchen for Sharone Vernon-Evans.
The standout opposite hitter with the Canadian men's team has spent the past five months recovering from a stress fracture in his left tibia, or shin bone, after having his rookie professional season with a Polish team cut short.
"When I got to Poland [earlier this year] there wasn't much rest time and I overworked the shin," says Vernon-Evans, who has been medically cleared to play but is unsure if he'll travel to Poland in August for the three-day Hubert Jerzy Wagner Memorial in Kraków. "I would love to play in the tournament but my main focus is world championships in September."
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During a FIVB World League stop in Belgium with the national team last June, Vernon-Evans had an X-ray taken that revealed a pre-stress fracture, a precursor to a stress fracture when the bone structure becomes weaker.
He purchased new shoes that alleviated the pain and continued to play, helping Canada to the Final Six semifinals and its first-ever World League medal after defeating the United States for bronze.
However, Vernon-Evans' pain returned in February while playing for ONICO Warsaw and an MRI revealed a stress fracture. The 19-year-old had surgery in Poland on March 23 that included the insertion of a rod and a month later flew home to begin four to six months of rehab.
"I don't have many regrets, other than I should have been more in tune with my body," says Vernon-Evans, who has rejoined his teammates for full workouts. "I wouldn't have wanted to stop playing in the Final Six, but I should have identified [the injury] before getting to the point of having to stop playing. I need to be up front about any pain, no matter how severe it is."
Vernon-Evans' recovery began with mobility work using resistance bands and riding a stationary bike, a workout far less intense than he is accustomed to with the national team, which coupled with poor eating habits led to a noticeable change in appearance.
I'm making better meals and trying to make them look pretty.— Canadian men's volleyball player Sharone Vernon-Evans on making nutrition a top priority in his recovery from injury
"You can gain weight pretty fast by not doing any physical activity. The big thing for me now is nutrition," says Vernon-Evans, who has one year left on his deal with ONICO Warsaw. "That was the hardest thing at first because I would be eating a bunch of food as if I was still working out with the team. I've learned what's better for my body."
Vernon-Evans, who is on a meal plan and keeps Canada head coach Stéphane Antiga updated daily, is cooking more than he did pre-injury.
"I'm making better meals and trying to make them look pretty," says the Scarborough, Ont., native, laughing. "I'm trying to get better at making salads and still trying to mix in vegetables here and there."
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Vernon-Evans began weight training in May and joined his Canadian teammates at practice before they opened the Volleyball Nations League season that has replaced the World League as the premier annual men's tournament. In June, he resumed volleyball activities such as jumping, blocking, digging and setting four days a week, while also exercising five days a week in the pool.
In between workouts, Vernon-Evans watched his teammates via live stream as Canada posted an 8-7 record at the inaugural Volleyball Nations League tournament but failed to advance to the final round after finishing outside the top six.
A three-set sweep at the hands of Serbia on June 22 eliminated the Canadians from playoff contention, but they rebounded with sweeps of China and Japan on the final weekend.
'I was in a helpless position'
"The way they bounced back," Vernon-Evans says, "shows how much heart and desire they have. We're grinders."
Canada's downfall was a three-match stretch when it lost to Bulgaria and dropped a five-setter to France before facing Serbia.
"I felt the most urge to want to play when we were losing, but I was in a helpless position," says Vernon-Evans, who ranked seventh in World League scoring last season with 53 points and eighth in spiking with a 45.92 per cent success rate.
"France is a great team, from one to 14, but we had a chance so that was the hard part [to swallow]. Bulgaria blocked ridiculously well and Serbia came out determined to make the Final Six."
Among the positives for Canada was a 3-0 upset of Brazil, its first victory over the top-ranked team since 2012 and fifth overall in 27 attempts.
"Everybody has at least a year of experience playing internationally and you can see the players excel. I'm proud of what all of them did," says Vernon-Evans, noting blocking and passing should be Canada's top priorities when it resumes play at the Wagner tourney. "We're playing in better leagues and against better competition."
Canada will hold a week-long training camp in Slovenia, starting Sept. 1, ahead of the men's world championship Sept. 10-30 in Bulgaria and Italy.