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STEPHANIE INGLIS: I am so grateful to have lived many years as a professional judo athlete, I would not change it and wish I could do it all over again

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Judo player Stephanie Inglis she is in training for the Commonwealth Games. ..Picture: Alasdair Allen. Image No. 021325.
Judo player Stephanie Inglis she is in training for the Commonwealth Games. ..Picture: Alasdair Allen. Image No. 021325.

Being an athlete is stressful, hard, extremely challenging but wonderful all at the same time. My journey was an absolute rollercoaster – lots of highs, lows, and a few crashes too.

When people think of athletes, they think of someone who is in great shape, fit, healthy. Look good so must feel good too, right? I would agree to all of this, I never felt better than when I was an athlete, I felt good most of the time, I enjoyed my life and loved what I did.

I portrayed that image to “non-judo” friends, social media, reporters, and anyone else who engaged in this conversation. My group of close friends were so supportive.

I would be preparing for a big competition halfway around the world chasing selections and needing to win fights and medals to reach my goal of being the best.

The physical aspects of what we see or believe an athlete to be is enough for us to make opinions and dismiss the hard work and effort put in.

An athlete’s mental health, daily struggles and sacrifices made are what lies below the surface that a lot of people just do not understand. I would wake up most mornings with my body aching, more bruises, tired and desperately wanting a lie in. But I would be up and getting ready for training.

I would nap during the day most days but I needed to do this to allow my body to recover so I could train again in the evening.

I would have to plan my meals sensibly with it being a weight-controlled sport. Thankfully I did work with nutritionists to get this right.

Being an athlete is one big sacrifice. But when you fight in that competition, make it onto that podium, have that medal placed round your neck, hear the national anthem, and watch the flags raised in the stadium – it is all worth it!

You forget the pain, torture and a lot of tears that came before that moment. You do not regret having missed that party, coffee date, birthday cake or girls’ trip. This is your life and why you do it.

But when you don’t reach that medal podium or exit a competition in the first round you experience an inward fight with negative self-talk, frustration, telling yourself you are not good enough, debating just quitting to go and enjoy weekends out and parties with friends.

It’s a vicious cycle and one I have experienced many times, sometimes it lasts the weekend until we return home, others I can be beating myself up about it all week which obviously did not change anything or help me.

The stress of being a self-funded athlete brought even more complications. Always fundraising or seeking sponsorship and when you secure it and that first round exit happens try telling your sponsor how you went halfway round the world for nothing. Try having that post-match discussion with your coach to find out what happened, call your parents at home who are excitedly waiting on your update and then putting up that post on your social media: “Not my day today etc etc”.

More athletes coming out and speaking about their mental health will be a huge help and encouragement for current and younger aspiring athletes. The sacrifices and dealing with failure are things you don’t plan to deal with. Then there are your injuries. Some big and some minor little niggles. Equally as frustrating as the other, missed, or adapted training sessions, missing competitions, and falling behind your rivals.

I would not change my life of being an athlete. I would, however, change how I spoke to myself. I would seek help and try hard to kick the negative self-talk as it helped me in no way whatsoever.

I hope you can take away that it is important to not be quick to judge people and assume they are always good or happy. We do not know what anyone is going through.

When we can change our mind to thinking more positively, we can attract positive things. Try it and see, it’s free and could be the difference that could tip things into your favour.

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