On the outside I must have looked like this successful young athlete with stories on the news, hitting PB after PB, winning national titles, and getting whisked around the world to compete at major events.
On the inside though, I was a young girl in constant fear of growing up.
Despite having all the professional support and advice a full-time athlete could ever want, including coaches, trainers, nutritionists, psychologists, physios, and even an endocrinologist. The unfortunate thing was, I just didn’t always listen.
Not only not to them, but I didn’t listen to my own body either.
Now, to truly understand how I got here, its beneficial to understand how it started.
Growing up I quickly became pretty good at running. I loved cross country and middle distance, especially the steeple chase. It’s taken me to some fantastic places around the world and I’ve met some amazing people too, and for those reasons I’m forever grateful.
I’ve competed at Junior World Champs, the Youth Olympics, World Uni Games and all-over New Zealand. Like most things, the more I trained, the faster I became and the more opportunities to go to these types of events became available.
The only trouble was as a pre-teen, then a teenager, was that the more I trained, or more importantly the more I trained the way I did, the more abuse I was inflicting on my body.
I focused on getting my times down, whilst stressing about gaining extra body fat and my weight going up!
I was just 15 years old and in constant fear that going through puberty would change my whole body and disrupt my performances.
I agonised that gaining breasts, hips and a more defined waist might slow me down. I was running the best I had ever run, so, I was like, why should I change things now? I was getting skinnier and skinnier and faster too, so I thought shit, this is good, this is a winning formula, so I just kept doing it.
With an overriding mindset that if I wanted to be a champion runner it had to become my life, I increased the number and intensity of my trainings even more.
Between running most mornings, I would play and train for hockey and hit the gym multiple times per week. But even then, I’d never seem to feel satisfied, so after trainings I’d go swimming or take a long walk in the hills.
I came to think that every training session I did, I had to push my body to the absolute limits. If I wasn’t panting, or if I wasn’t on the ground literally dead, then I wasn’t working hard enough. The only thing was I was always so exhausted. I never had enough energy to socialise with my friends or family, study or simply just have a laugh.
Unfortunately, as I was already wrestling with conflicting messages between my body and my brain, my father suffered a stroke, then a few months later my uncle committed suicide. As a coping mechanism I ploughed myself into even more training. Loading up on endorphins, in the hope of making myself feel happy through exercise.
I was mentally struggling to cope, but I continued to be so hard on myself; I was like, pull yourself together Rosa just push through it, you’ll be fine!
Without really realising, I was trapped in this vicious cycle and eventually I hit rock bottom, everything came to a screaming halt!
For nearly ten years I’d been completely oblivious to the consequences of the serious injuries I was heading for, and as I paused for a bit to regather myself, my body revolted against all the suppression and stress I had inflicted on it.
It started with a stress fracture and stress reaction in my tibia, plus stress fractures in both hips.
The puberty game kicked in as well, I am now 22 years old and I only just started menstruating at 21.
Everything was prolonged.
I’ve been forced to deal with low iron levels, gut issues and low bone density. Stress and anxiety issues have also affected me too. It’s fair to say that over the past couple of years shit has gotten real!
But I’m happy to say I have received support in all these areas, and I’m listening too.
I’ve had nearly 2 years away from the track and I’m just starting back now.
The changes I have experienced in my body have been mentally hard. I am slowly adjusting to my extra body fat and weight, which I know is crucial for my development. My running style has changed, recovery between sessions is harder, my times are a lot slower and I’m a long way off my PB’s.
I am having to be extremely patient and aware of niggles.
But as I move forward I know that I am doing the right thing for myself. Right now, I am still getting frustrated as I didn’t expect it to be such a long process. Some days when times get tough I feel like throwing the towel in but my love and passion for running is too great for that to ever happen.
My relationship and mindset with running and food has changed so much.
No longer am I smashing my body to its absolute limits and trying to prove something to myself or others.
I am back running because I have a passion for it and it gives me a sense of freedom, rather than the false feelings I was getting. I have had to learn how to become less perfect, less intense and less focused on my ultimate outcomes.
I am redefining what success looks like for me, instead of it being the gold medal or the personal best time, success looks more like turning up for training, having fun, being niggle free, having good nutrition, getting 8+ hours of sleep or mediating for 5mins every day.
As much as I wish obsessive exercise and an eating disorder wasn’t part of my story, it is, and the more I open up about it and share my experience the less shame and regret I have on myself. Unfortunately for me I had to crash in order to come right.
My hope is for other individuals whether male, female, an athlete or not to learn from my experience. Most importantly becoming aware of the debilitating consequences that occur when you neglect your own health and wellbeing.