It’s ok to break sometimes, provided you move on & you get back when your body and mind is ready…
There are so many labels that could be applied to Jana Pittman - including World Champion, runner, Olympic bobsledder, mother and doctor amongst them - it’s hardly surprising she’s also been described as Australia’s most ‘misunderstood’ Olympian.
But after speaking with her for this week’s episode of Sparta Chicks Radio and reading her fantastic autobiography ‘Just Another Hurdle’, I was left with the impression she’s a deeply passionate woman who wears her heart on her sleeve and who spent much of her younger years just wanting to be liked (I think many of us can relate).
And on top of that, she achieved incredible success at an early age (too early as she reveals in this conversation), without adequate training in how to handle it or the accompanying media attention.
It’s no wonder the public perception of her was divided for so many years!
At 20, Jana became the Commonwealth Games Champion in the gruelling 400m Hurdles event and, at 21, the World Champion.
By the end of her athletics career, she’d competed at 2 Olympic Games, won 4 x Commonwealth Games Gold medals and is one of a handful of elite athletes (which group includes Usain Bolt) to win a World Championship at all levels of competition (youth, junior and senior).
Then in a transition that surprised many people, she switched sports.
She took up the bobsled and represented Australia at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, becoming the 1st Australian able-bodied woman to compete at both the Summer and Winter Olympic Games.
Now, she’s finally pursuing her childhood ambition to become a doctor - not in sport’s medicine however but as a gynaecologist (or “vagina doctor” to use her words).
In between all of that, she’s experienced and survived toxic relationships, a 13 year battle with bulimia and disordered eating, miscarriages, IVF, breast implants, struggles with breastfeeding and retirement as well as a cervical cancer scare - all of which is documented in her real, raw and vulnerable autobiography.
In today’s conversation, we discuss:
- whether the description of her as Australia’s most ‘misunderstood’ Olympian is accurate,
- growing up wanting to ballerina and how running became a way for her to spend time with her Dad and make him proud,
- her childhood dream to become a doctor,
- how becoming the World Champion at just 21 changed her (and why she wishes her success had happened later in life),
- how the ‘demon voice’ took over at 22 and she began a 13 year battle with bulimia,
- the importance of allowing yourself to break and wallow after a disappointment or injury (rather than bottling it up and trying to push through),
- how she (fortunately) managed to avoid much of the public criticism levelled at her (which included headlines calling her a ‘drama queen’ or “Drama Jana”),
- her transition to life as a bobsled athlete (including that her first race on ice was only after one week of practising on ice!) and why she describes her experience at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics as one of the highlights of her career,
- how she has only recently realised the impact that everyday life stress has on her body and her performance (in hindsight, she’s realised she would have an argument with her ex-husband one day and pull up with an Achilles injury the next),
- where her passion for women’s health and gynaecology (or ‘vagina doctor’ as she describes it) comes from,
- the importance of breaking the stigma around women’s health issues, especially the topics we are too embarrassed to discuss,
- some of the symptoms you should talk to your doctor about, and
- the scary statistic concerning the high number of Australian women who are not having a pap smear as often as required. Are you? 😉
Notes and resources:
The 'Save the Box' campaign to raise awareness and funds for gynaecological cancers.