25 year-old Katie Kirk is an elite athlete. She’s just back from competing for Ireland in the 800m at the European Team Championships in Norway. Just a few short years ago though, she was told she’d never run again.
Katie, from Holywood, County Down was a teen running sensation and one of the young athletes hand-picked to light the Olympic torch in London in 2012. Not long after, she disappeared from the athletics world; but it wasn’t due to injury. Katie was battling an eating disorder.
She spoke about the condition for the first time in a recent interview with sports journalist Cathal Dennehy. Today, she chatted to Miriam O’Callaghan about her illness and her journey back to the track.
Katie developed Anorexia Athletica around 4 years ago. The condition is a sub-class of the better-known Anorexia Nervosa. Katie told Miriam she was reluctant to go public at first:
“It’s a very emotional and personal experience that I wasn’t really sure if I wanted to ever share.”
At the time she became ill, Katie was stressed about life outside of athletics. A combination of this stress and the normally healthy dietary control of an athlete, as well as an inherent drive to succeed, sent her in an unhealthy direction.
“There was a performance mindset in me that then progressed into something else.”
From there, Katie says things “spiralled out of control”. The psychological component of her illness was so strong, that she felt her family were not being helpful, even as they tried to do everything they could. Looking back, she sees how supportive they really were.
“I think that with anorexia you have a very tunneled vision, and at that point I couldn’t see that they were trying to help me. I felt like they were trying to hinder me.”
Katie thinks that social media can feed into a crisis in body image for athletes. She likes to show a balance of images and not obsess about fake ideas of perfection.
“I try to make sure I have a mixture on my social media channels so that people can see that I don’t have a perfect body. There is no such thing as a perfect body.”
Recovery for Katie has not been about “taking back control” but quite the opposite. She’s back competing in a high performance environment, but this time she’s more relaxed.
“I’ve relinquished control to just chill out a wee bit more and not stress out about it.”
Katie says pacing herself and allowing sufficient time for her recovery have been critical to her success. And she’s happy with one other big decision she’s made recently: she’s picked out a dress for her wedding next year. Will it be trainers or heels under the dress? We may never know.
You can listen to Katie’s interview in full on Today with Miriam O’Callaghan here.
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