Growing up in Detroit, I was raised in what I considered one of the best sports towns in the country. During my childhood, it seemed as though winning championships came naturally. My love for Detroit sports started from the time I was a baby. To this day, when I tell someone from Michigan that I was born in 1984, their immediate response is, “The year the Tigers won the World Series!”
Though the Tigers were a great team to root for, I quickly became an avid hockey fan. How could I not when the city was nicknamed “Hockeytown?” I was lucky enough to witness, arguably, the most incredible team in the history of Detroit sports—the Detroit Red Wings and “The Russian Five.” As a thirteen-year-old girl, I watched the first of two back-to-back Stanley Cup Championships. And, wow, it was amazing.
My dad had tickets to all Detroit sports teams. Each year, he took me for a few special nights out—just the two of us. I got to pick wherever I wanted to have dinner, and then we would head to either “The Palace” or “The Joe” depending on the season. There was no question that my favorite team ever was the 1997 and 1998 Red Wings. I remember sitting in the stands with only the boards between the players and myself. I watched as each one skated by—salivating at their talent, dreaming of their lifestyles, and marveling at their successes. In the eyes of a young girl, all I saw was perfection.
I stared in awe at professional athletes and their families—and believed they were invincible. To me, they had it all. The athletes themselves had fame, fortune, and the opportunity to play the sport they loved. And, then the athletes’ children were the luckiest of all. They were born into great fortunes, and were most likely blessed with awesome athletic genes. To me, there was no downside to the life of a pro.
Since coming out with my story of developing and battling a significant eating disorder as a collegiate athlete, I have come to find out that the lives of celebrities and professional athletes may not be as perfect as I once believed.
Being in the limelight comes with an incredible amount of pressure and expectation for the athlete and the family. As an athlete feels responsible to fulfill and exceed expectations in competition, a child of a pro feels like they can never live up to the success of the parent. There are many consequences to a high-pressure and high-stress lifestyle—one being the development of an eating disorder. That is why in a study of Division 1 NCAA athletes, over one-third of female athletes reported attitudes and symptoms placing them at risk for anorexia nervosa.
It now makes sense to me after I read a recent article in HOUR Detroit magazine, Woman to Woman: A Candid Conversation on Body Image, Producer Alyonka Larionov and plus-size model Leah Vernon discuss their struggles with eating disorders, how the daughter of one of the Red Wings’ Russian Five would have developed a life-threatening eating disorder. And, she admitted the pressure to live up to the expectations of such chiseled parents contributed to her illness.
Professional athletes and celebrities are people. They, too, face struggles and adversity, and are far from invincible. In 2003 when I had an eating disorder, it would have been quite helpful to have known there were others out there battling the same thing—especially people I had seen as ‘perfect.’ Here’s to more ‘candid conversations’ on eating disorders and body image struggles!