There are many positives to take from sport, and much to be lauded about the benefits of elite athletes and sports people as role models. The other day I read an article about the experiences of an elite level triathlete, Hollie Avil, and her decision to 'retire' from her sport. There is nothing odd on the face of it that an athlete retires, there can be many reasons for it, the elements that stand out as 'headlines' here are... her age (22 years old), her successes (former European and World junior triathlon champion; one time Olympian in Beijing; World ITU podium successes), and her potential (harder to put a metric on but prior form could only hint at possibilities)...
So what then is the reason for the retirement of a bright prospect in British triathlon? Well it makes for a painful read (please read the full article, a link reference is below), she came to the very evolved and mature decision primarily because of an eating disorder. The development of which she directly attributes to her sporting career. Having suffered across three periods of her relative short career she determined that, and I borrow from the article she wrote herself...
"I don’t want to risk my health again, not just my mental health, but my physical health.
I want to be happy."
Many people outside of elite sport turn to training and sport as part of a personal strategy to control weight and feel good (I use it along those lines myself). There is are innumerable links between issues of self-image and sports, to hear such an honest and eloquent description of the feelings of a 'top-level' athlete succumbing to the worst of these issues is so sad. That the coaches, mentors, fellow competitors and so forth seemed to contribute to issues for an individual is, from the outside, worrying. That an elite level athlete in the public eye had the presence of character to recognise what was happening them in a specific environment and walk away, is commendable, brave, refreshing, and one can only hope a cautionary tale that will inform other future athletes and sports directors.
The balance between a healthy mind and a healthy body can be for many difficult to achieve, there are indeed global industries built upon selling 'systems' to help individuals, but the key is to listen to yourself watch your own behavioural responses and understand when things need to change or re-balance. As a reader of Hollie's story I can only wish that the balance she strikes going forward serves her well and that her experiences will help inform many about the penetration of eating disorders through so many aspects of our culture.
The original article I discuss above:- From the Daily Telegraph [dated - Thursday 24 May 2012] Written by Hollie Avil.
Telegraph Olympic athlete profile http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/olympics/Team-GB/competitors/8662574/Holly-Avil-Team-GB-London-2012-Olympics.html
Hollie Avil's website http://www.hollie-avil.com/