Promising athlete has published a book chronicling her battle with anorexia and here we bring you an exclusive extract
Around 14-15 years ago Rebecca Quinlan was an up-and-coming athlete who ranked in the top 30 in the UK for 400m hurdles and had aspirations of being a professional athlete one day. Instead she spent most of the 2008-11 period in eating disorder units receiving treatment for severe anorexia nervosa and found herself moments from death.
Even though she showed signs of having an eating disorder from a young age and became incredibly unwell at Loughborough University, she feels none of her athletics coaches or professionals in sport noticed, or intervened, or offered support or advice.
After having made a recovery to health, she is keen to raise awareness of the prevalence of anorexia in athletics and now gives talks on the topic and last month published a book called My memoir, Running Free: My Battle with Anorexia.
Here is an extract from the book…
My battle with anorexia
Organ failure. Resuscitation Unit. Death. What causes someone to starve themselves to the brink of death? To starve themselves to the point where they can’t walk, can hardly talk, and where their heart is barely beating to keep them alive? The answer? Anorexia.
I was 22 years old and had been rushed to A&E and the Resuscitation Unit. My organs were failing and I had hypothermia. I was told I faced imminent death. As each minute passed, it was doubtful if I would live to see the next. I was hooked up to every machine and every drip possible. Doctors and nurses were working their hardest to keep me alive. My parents stood helpless by my bedside, ghostly pale as they watched their daughter dying in front of their eyes.
My heart rate was averaging less than 20 beats per minute and I was drifting in and out of consciousness. The nurses wrapped my body in heated blankets.
“You have severe hypothermia,” a nurse said. “Your body temperature is critically low and your whole body is shutting down. We need to raise your temperature immediately or your heart is going to stop.”
That was the reality – I was being told I was in organ failure and could die any minute. But the reality in my mind? I didn’t care. I didn’t care about anything other than my weight. I was about to die, but I was so happy that I had reached a new all-time lowest weight.
This wasn’t the first time I had been in this state. My organs had nearly failed and I had nearly died several times over the previous two years. This was now my third admission.
Three years before, I was a 19-year-old athlete ranked in the top 30 in the UK for my age, aspiring to run for Great Britain as a professional. How did it all go so terribly wrong? How had my one lifetime dream of becoming a professional athlete turned into the living nightmare of anorexia?
READ MORE: Dealing with an eating disorder
Within two weeks of returning to uni, I had lost a further half a stone and was down to 7st 4lb. I was ecstatic. I couldn’t quite believe I had got that low. And now I was that low, there was no way I was going to let it go back up. Anorexia had fully taken hold and was working away at me with venom.
My restriction had become even more extreme – only vegetables and 10-calorie soup were allowed. I was exercising at every opportunity but, by this point, I wasn’t able to complete my athletics training anymore. Trying to run repetition after repetition, lift heavy weights at the gym: these were tasks I felt capable of – my mind felt capable of everything, nothing could stop me – but I wasn’t physically capable of completing the sessions like I’d used to.
Believe me, I tried. But to sprint round a track requires muscle, power and speed endurance. And I had lost all of mine. To live, my body had to get its energy from somewhere, and I certainly wasn’t eating enough to supply this, so it had to eat its own muscle.
I kept trying to complete the sessions but the more I tried, the more destroyed I felt inside. I had to accept that my dream had gone.
Friday 2nd May 2008,
My weight loss is doing my running no good, but I think I have gone past the point of no return.
Because I couldn’t run properly anymore and my lifetime dream was ruined, I changed my plan. I decided to forget my dream of being a professional athlete, knowing that had well and truly gone. Instead, I was to focus everything on losing weight. That was all that mattered now.
It had started out as a diet to try and improve my athletic performance. Faster running was my aim and weight loss was deemed the way to achieve it. But now the running didn’t matter. The weight loss didn’t improve my performance and I was well aware of that. But anorexia had grown stronger than my childhood dream.
I had worked my whole life to try and achieve my running ambition, years spent training, competing, living to be an athlete and now, here I was, so entwined in the anorexic web, so caught in its malicious spell, that I could not fight for my dream.
My mind told me my dream didn’t matter anymore. The only thing that mattered was weight loss. Losing weight was my compensation for losing athletics and made me feel better when faced with the harsh reality of a lost ambition.
Running Free: My Battle with Anorexia by Rebecca Quinlan is available to buy via amazon, SRL Publishing or Waterstones
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