Snooker player Judd Trump recalls all too vividly the feelings of utter despair and hopelessness when his eyesight began to fail, threatening to derail his career before he had a chance to fulfil his potential.
In a sport where 20-20 vision is a must, Judd was not only suffering in tournaments, but unable to practise.
Now 30, the man known to millions of fans as “The Juddernaut” says he felt he was almost playing “blind”.
“My eyesight had always been good but at school I went swimming one day and the chlorine affected me badly,” he says.
“I was almost blinded for two weeks and from there things deteriorated. Then at the World Championship in 2007 I realised I couldn’t see the back of the pocket. It was one big blur. My first two seasons as a pro it was dreadful.
At his wits’ end, Bristol-born Judd was advised by his manager, Django Fung, to undergo laser eye surgery.
But with his best years ahead, he couldn’t reconcile the risk-versus-reward nature of the treatment. He worried that things could go wrong in surgery, so he stalled for years, choosing to wear contact lenses instead.
“But I just couldn’t wear them for long periods – my eyes were drying up,” he says. “We had events with four matches in a day and I could hardly see by the end. It felt like my lenses were going to fall out and I virtually had to give games away. I played on almost blind, at about 10% of my vision.
“The lenses were always irritating – I was rubbing my eyes all the time. It’s horrible when you’re playing for your livelihood.
“I was going up against players ranked way below me, knowing I couldn’t win. The problem was often worst in high humidity at the Asian tournaments.”
Judd only shared the truth with his manager and close family, which meant his reduced performance attracted online abuse and trolling. Some put his failure to deliver down to his playboy lifestyle, others blamed a poor attitude.
“My rivals had no idea how bad it was,” he says. “They thought they were playing me at my peak and I tried to keep the problem a secret, only talking to Django about it.
“People were saying on social media, ‘He’s going out too much’ – I got judged. That was demoralising.”
Eventually Judd felt he had no choice but to go for treatment.
“Just the idea of laser eye surgery was huge. I was a young man with hopefully my best years ahead of me in a sport where eyesight is everything.
“There is a risk in any operation and this was my eyes. The thought at that time of having surgery on them was horrible. It felt like a massive gamble.
“I put it off. You are scared, thinking what if it goes wrong? You could be blind and it could not only end snooker but affect everything.
“But it got to a point where I couldn’t practise and couldn’t play tournaments properly. I couldn’t compete at anywhere near my natural level. That made the decision easier.
“The final straw was at the World Championship in May 2017, playing two sessions in a day. I was tired, my eyes felt gritty and horrible.”
That July, Judd visited Optegra Eye Health Care and underwent refractive surgery in which a laser is used to reshape the eye’s cornea to increase focus and create clearer vision.
“The procedure was painless, much like going to the dentist,” he says. “It all felt simple and was much easier than I had feared.
“The least comfortable part was when they numbed the eye, which felt very strange. Before I knew it, it was all done and I was left wondering what I had been worried about.”
As he had been warned, there was a frustrating adjustment period after surgery. “It did not feel right for a few weeks,” he recalls. “The lights over the table seemed very bright – and I was seeing the ball differently.
“I didn’t have full confidence in what I was doing. If you are not confident in your eyesight, you play safe. If you are confident, you go for your shots. But the more I played, the better I got.”
There was a shock 5-0 loss to Sam Craigie in the World Open in August before a tentative return in the China Championship later that month. However, winning the European Masters that October saw Judd’s confidence return.
Since the surgery, the player has won seven major titles and £1.6million in 12 months, including his first World Championship this May, which saw him take the world No 1 spot from rival Ronnie O’Sullivan.
Judd says: “I noticed a big difference within a month – I could now play comfortably all day. If I had got it done five years before, who knows what I might have achieved by now.
“I have no doubt in saying I could have won another 10 or 15 tournaments. What I have won since supports that.
“There is no way that what has happened to me – winning a first world title, the Masters, other wins and getting back to No 1 – would have happened without the surgery.
“It has made a massive impact and [the importance of] being able to practise six hours a day can’t be overstated. Thankfully, the age I did it allowed time for me still to achieve.
“If I had to give one reason for the way my career has taken off the last two years, it is the surgery. It has enabled me to be the player
I wanted to be – and hopefully there is still more to come.”
Judd Trump is an ambassador for Optegra Eye Health Care