Q&A WITH GRACE HULL // golden advice for young female athletes ✨
Grace Hull recently made headlines as she very bravely shared her story about the pressure to be thin as a rising swim star. In the article published by ABC, Grace explains how the scrutiny she came under as a junior swimmer regarding her body lead her to quitting the sport at a young age, and how significantly this impacted her mental health.
At JOLYN, it's our mission to support and inspire female athletes, so as this is an issue faced by many of you, we reached out to Grace to ask a few questions about her experience. We were absolutely amazed by everything Grace had to say, and wanted to share her advice on how we can move towards creating a better culture and more supportive environment within high performance sport for all the incredible sportswomen out there. Read our Q&A with Grace below👇
Thank you very, very much! Yes, it definitely did affect my love for swimming. I first quit competitive swimming when I was 17. After I quit, I resented swimming and saw myself as a failure for not being able to “make it”. I felt like I had thrown years of my life away dedicating my time to something that had ended up being fruitless. I spent 3 years away from the pool and during this time could hardly bring myself to go for a casual swim, as it bought back a lot of awful memories. In saying this, when I was 20, I returned to the pool and found my love for swimming again! Part of this was maturing into a young adult and part of it was healing my mental health to a point where I could recognise the benefits of swimming, aside from the typical accolades (medals, times, selections, etc). Now, at 22, I am more in love with the sport than I have ever been. I have realised just how privileged I am to have the ability to swim at the level that I do.
If I could go back and say anything to my teenage self, and any young female athlete going through a similar situation, it would be to take ownership of the decisions that are made about your body. We are so lucky to be given this amazing vessel to create such special athletic moments in, so we owe it to ourselves to fuel it in the best way possible. This includes both physical and mental health.
If you ever feel uneasy about something, speak up and tell someone you trust. There should NEVER be a point where you feel like decisions are being made for you, without your consultation, at any age. Being a teenager is hard work, add the training and competing (and all that comes with it!) into the mix, there will be times where your body or mind needs a rest, so take it. There is no one else who knows you better than you - listen to your thoughts and feelings and allow yourself time to recognise just how amazing you are.
I could honestly list a lot of people in answering this question – since returning to the sport, I have been lucky enough to meet and be supported by some amazing people. My coaches, Deb Jones and Tracey Menzies, two incredibly intelligent, caring and passionate women who I have had the honour of training under. Dr Jennifer McMahon OAM, whose invaluable work in the field of athlete welfare, inspired my passion and drive for telling my story. Most importantly my mum and biggest role model, Helen, who has stood by my side through every step of this journey with steadfast and unwavering support.
I think it is really important to recognise that a lot of the issues that surround the criticism of female athletes’ bodies stem from “accepted norms”. Historically, high performance sport has facilitated an environment that allows coaches and support staff to criticise young females who do not fit a certain set of standards. This is done through damaging practices such as public weigh-ins, recurring skin fold testing and using verbiage that describes the body in a demeaning way.
Whilst there have been some positive changes in recognising these cultural flaws, more needs to be done to combat these failings. We should never criticise the body as an object or image, for example using words like “too fat” or “not lean enough”. We should use language that empowers athletes such as “fuelling your body in the right way” or “consuming the right foods to allow for peak energy levels”. The teenage body will go through many changes and it is so important to allow this to naturally occur and have patience. The best athlete is a happy athlete – I stand by this wholeheartedly.
At first, it was incredibly hard to return to swimming as a young adult. My body had gone through a lot of changes from being away from the sport. When I first returned to competition, I swam so far over my old personal best times and it was really disheartening. However, through perseverance and hard work, I found myself really enjoying being back in the water and reaping the benefits of being a swimmer. I had gone down a really dark path with my mental health prior to returning to the pool.
The battle to get back to a healthy version of myself has been a long one, but swimming has definitely helped with this. The biggest part of healing my trauma was recognising the benefits that I have received from swimming; for example, I have an amazing job running a swim school, which I never would have had the opportunity to do had I not been a swimmer. I have best friends all over the country that I never would have met if I had not competed in swimming. I am currently studying a degree in psychology and sports management, which I never would have started if I did not go through what I went through. Very cliché to say… but it really isn’t always about the medals and trophies.
There is not a number on a scale, tape measure or scoreboard that defines who you are as a person. Although a major part of your identity may lie in the fact that you are an athlete, it does not affect your value as a human being. When you finish a race or game, whatever the result may be, you are still an amazing person. As a young athlete, I let my sport consume my self-worth – when I had a bad race, I saw myself as a bad person. This was incredibly destructive to my self-esteem. Now when I don’t perform as well as I hoped, I remind myself that I am still a caring sister, a loving daughter, a dedicated student and a passionate worker. No one can take that away from me and no one can take away your worth either.
Feeling empowered? Same here. If you loved reading Grace's words of wisdom, check out her Insta and follow along her incredible journey - @_gracehull 💚