Sal’s Story

“I aspire to a world where… We can enjoy the moment, the challenge, the rewards, the ups… and downs. Love yourself and trust the process of this thing we call ‘life’. Don’t fear mistakes, no-body is perfect.  Always ask questions and embrace the new. Be content but also continue to grow…I am still figuring myself out. We don’t want to understand everything in the world, it spoils the fun. Be yourself and don’t belong to anyone’s ‘box’ but your own.” 

My passion for football was instilled from a very young age. My three brothers and I had a very active childhood and I inevitably chose whichever sports my brothers played. As a young girl growing up in Wagga Wagga, sport was in abundance. I eventually narrowed it down to one, the most beautiful game for me, football.

My progress up the ranks from the country town of Wagga to Sydney to then debut for Australia was rapid. I’d made the goal clear for myself at 12. Four years later I debuted for Australia. Quick.

I am the youngest footballer to have represented my country at an Olympic Games. This feat however, in my mind is tarnished somewhat as it was at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, I first tried to make myself sick.

When I begin to recall crucial times in my life, situations & happenings are blurred by a battle I’ve grappled with for a long time and only recently felt some comfort in sharing beyond my family and support network.

There is no denying that the last 10 years have been an incredibly journey, consisting of many wonderful experiences in traveling the world and representing my country with some of the most wonderfully talented, dedicated & disciplined people I will ever meet.

In the past my emotional levels and moods were tenaciously determined by how I felt physically. One meal, even a single potato chip could alter my mental state, alter my reality. I had such a misconstrued understanding of my physical self.

I wanted to be skinny, I was under the illusion this would make me a better athlete, I’d be fulfilled, more accomplished. In order to achieve this I’d bully my body in to doing something it was not equipped for. My mind began to take over. My thinking got the better of me, these thought patterns were well embedded before I even realised. I did not love myself. In saying that I was able to protect this secret ‘skinny’ desire of mine. I continued to perform at a level where I maintained my position in the national team. I was fighting a lonely battle, one of isolation.

I knew deep down I was never able to perform to my optimal. But this did not seem to faze me, I did not know how to stop. I was embarrassed and I didn’t want anyone to know of this weakness.

The roller coaster I was obligated to ride did not make for a very stable existence. If I made a mistake, if I performed badly, if I didn’t feel fit/skinny, it heavily influenced my mood.  While passion for the sport can mask those moods, the debilitating effect became too extreme.  In the end it was something I could not live with. While appearing to others as anxiety & depressive states that I fell in to, it was all seemingly because I didn’t feel (I want to say healthy), but the stark reality for me …I didn’t feel skinny. I knew I needed help and when I  began speaking to people, being honest with myself and others, I began to improve.

Everyone has their battles, this I understand. They are much harder to conquer on your own, this is what I’ve learned. No matter how isolating your problem can seem to you, there is help out there.

Upon accepting my eating disorder as the main driver in my life I began seeking help.

I am continuing on in my journey. It is one of education and I am on a quest to re-educate myself on the misconceptions I have absorbed and somehow made sense of over the last decade.

Not only do I aspire to play for Australia again, I want to be healthy. At day’s end, elite sport won’t feature in my life forever but my need to be healthy is for life.  To that end, I want to treat my mind, body and soul with the respect it deserves.

Lessons are in abundance in the sporting world, which can be applied to every-day life. I just cannot fathom the impact sport has had on my whole being, including all ups and downs. We do need to take good care of our bodies by being active & eating nutritious foods. By doing this we naturally produce a healthy mind and body . This makes for a better world, don’t you think?

I do not have the answers but perhaps my story can help. I’ll leave you with this final quote…

“A positive body image goes beyond liking your looks. It encompasses taking good care of yourself and leading a fulfilling life.” – Margarita Tartakovsky, MS.

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