Six months on from her AW article which made waves, the 21-year-old wants to see the “taboo” culture being challenged
Bobby Clay believes athletics could – and should – be doing much more to build an awareness and support system around relative energy deficiency in sport (RED-S), but that challenging a “taboo” mentality in wider society is necessary first.
Six months have passed since the 21-year-old told her hard-hitting story in Athletics Weekly, sharing in-depth insight into her osteoporosis diagnosis which came about due to her regime of over-training combined with inadequate nutrition.
“I have become ‘that girl’,” she wrote. “The girl who over-trained. The girl who under fuelled. The girl who we are all told about, yet we all just believe ‘it won’t happen to me’.”
One of Clay’s reasons for writing the article was to help raise awareness of the issue and the 2015 European junior 1500m champion believes many people have a part they can play in reducing the number of future cases like hers.
“There is a fine line between passion and obsession,” says the Loughborough University student-athlete, who has been cross training over the past few months (pictured, top).
“I think targeting athletes at the right age is really important and it not just being females. There is so much focus on females, and I feel like males are neglected heavily in this area. At the same time, I feel like males almost think that they don’t have a duty of care towards females when it comes to things like periods.
“I was training for most of my life with a group of males. They were my best friends, they were my training partners, but I couldn’t talk to them about anything that was not really right with my body because we have this mentality that it’s nothing to do with them, that they shouldn’t have to listen to that.”
Clay reflects on a training camp experience she had at around the age of 15, when groups were split for the girls to have a female athlete triad lecture, while the boys had a session on something else.
“Even in sex education at school, boys and girls were split, which is just bizarre,” she adds, “because how are we ever going to change this? We need to be more united in the whole topic, so that it isn’t taboo.”
“We need to be more united in the whole topic, so that it isn’t taboo”
She adds: “For a period of time I felt so alone, even though I had so many people wanting to help me, but it was because I knew I had done it to myself and so why should other people be dragged into something which I had caused myself?
“I didn’t think I was worth their time or effort. When I started to allow people to help me, I suddenly realised that, if I felt like that, there must be other girls feeling like that.”
Patience is now key for the multiple national champion and, after months of cross training in the pool and on the bike, she is injury-free.
She has also recently returned to the track, with strides sessions providing a boost both physically and mentally.
Clay is in the third year of a psychology degree at Loughborough University and, while she has found being in such an intense sporting environment has been a blessing as well as a curse, the support which has come her way since telling her story has been “incredible”.
“I’m actually doing a lot better,” she says. “There were stages where I was trying to get back on my feet running, things were moving on quite quickly and I was thinking ‘be patient, do things slowly’ and then I’d get knocked back again. I had weeks and weeks of walking drills, which were so tedious. I’ve slowly built from that and now my drills are dynamic and I’m actually able to do some strides. I’m not going to say that I finish them and everything feels absolutely fine, but I’m happy in myself that I’m doing it and things are going better.
“I would love to rush it but I’ve realised I can’t any more.”
Her coach Rob Denmark continues to write her sessions, maintaining training peaks and ensuring inclusion.
“I haven’t been easy to coach at all,” Clay adds. “I think as an athlete it’s easy to forget that your frustrations are also your coach’s frustrations.
“Through all my cross training, Rob has set my sessions. It makes me still feel like an athlete and still part of our sport even though I’m approaching it differently.”
“The dream is always going to be becoming an Olympian. I believe I still can. But, at the moment, more of a dream is just to be able to wake up and go for a run”
When it comes to her future, Clay says she has learned not to look too far ahead and now has separate ‘plans’ and ‘dreams’.
“The plan is to wake up each day, look at training peaks, do what I’m told and go to bed in one piece. That starts again the next day,” explains Clay, who has welcomed other passions back into her life and will be taking part in a couple of horse riding competitions over the summer, linked to her love of animals.
“The dream is always going to be becoming an Olympian. I believe I still can. But, at the moment, more of a dream is just to be able to wake up and go for a run.
“I feel like both are possible, just one is going to take a bit longer than the other.
“Running was more than just sport for me. Unfortunately, running was my life. I want it to still be my life, but in a safer way.”
» This interview with Bobby Clay was first featured in a two-page news focus article published in the May 31 edition of AW magazine
» Clay’s feature on her osteoporosis diagnosis can be found here