The day I began treatment for my eating disorder was the August before the start of my sophomore year of high school. It was also the day my season of cross country track was scheduled to start. After my pediatrician was unable to sign off on the medical clearance forms, I was forced to go talk to my coach about how I wouldn’t be able to run with them this season. I was anxious when I walked into his office, expecting an angry response.
My expectations could not have been more wrong. Instead of yelling, my coach sat and listened to me as I explained everything that was going on, what caused me to feel this way, and my plan to try to fix it. At the end of my ramble, he stood up, gave me a hug and promised I was not any less a member of the team than I was last season.
I unofficially became his assistant for the season, taking times at meets and making sure everyone stayed hydrated and motivated. I liked being able to do these things but the more I watched everyone else run, the more I wanted to run again, too. There were even days I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to. My coach always promised me I would and reminded me that even if I didn’t believe in myself, he surely did.
I progressed through recovery with a lot to look forward to as the journey went on but one of the things I anticipated most was being able to participate in track again. My coach knew this and helped in small ways that made such huge impacts. He recommended new flavors of protein bars and light core exercises for me to do in the meantime and made sure I knew he was always there to listen.
Towards the end of the season, my physician cleared me for partial participation two days a week. I left that appointment and headed right back to school to tell my coach the good news. He was as excited as I was, maybe even more. He told me how proud he was of me which was an expression I’d heard before when I got a new best time or won a medal but somehow it sounded so different that Monday afternoon. My first day back was the following day and it was probably the slowest I had ever run but it had never felt so good.
To my coach who never gave up on me, thank you a million times over. Thank you for having confidence in me before I could find it in myself. Thank you always wanting what was best for me. And most importantly, thank you for my love of banana nut protein bars.
Editor’s note: for more warning signs and information on how to help coaches be the best they can be, refer to NEDA’s Coaches and Trainers Toolkit, which was specially developed to address the prevalence of eating disorders in athletes.
Olivia Clancy is a sophomore at New York University studying applied psychology and child and adolescent mental health studies. She plans on using her own experiences with mental illness to help others in her future career as a clinical psychologist.