Ultraman Story: Suzy Degazon
My Journey from Chronic Anorexic to Ultra-Distance Triathlete
The year was 1997 I was all smiles and running towards the finish line of the French Triple Iron distance race Defi Mundial de L’Endurance, I had covered 7.2 miles of swimming in a 50 meter pool, cycled 336 miles and ran 78 miles in circuits I was about to finish in style; placing 3rd female and 26th out of 48 athletes in a total time of 51 hours and 41 minutes! It was a far cry from my younger years spent inside various hospitals and asylums while I battled my inner demons and fought against Anorexia Nervosa.
As triathletes we are obsessed about numbers, what do we weigh? What was our split, our finish time, our miles per hour….were did we place….how many calories did we use how many did we consume… how many miles a week can we swim bike run and so the numbers keep on adding up. Yet the numbers rarely project the quality of life we lead or the type of person we are they do not tell us how much we are loved by friends or family they are exactly that just numbers.
This week is National Eating Disorder Awareness week and I wanted to reach out to other athletes and their families about the dangers of eating disorders and why if we suspect a fellow athlete or friend or family member of having an eating disorder it is important to let them know help is available there is over 24 million Americans with eating disorders only 1 in 10 seek help. Eating Disorders do not distinguish a certain group they do not care the color of your skin, your gender, or your place in society. It may be the good looking football player who is hiding an eating disorder as well as the gymnast or cheerleader. It may be a popular student in class or the kid that gets picked on, It could be a university student feeling pressure to get perfect scores on exams or not living up to some one else’s expectations; be sensitive to others every- one has problems some of us channel them through food.
I spent 10 years of my life obsessed with food, I could not it seem control my life but I could control what food I ate and thus began my demise into the world of feeding tubes, bed rest and mental asylums, I abused laxatives, hid food and wore baggy clothes I did many things to try and hide my skinny frame and at 58 pounds was admitted to various hospitals eventually my heart went into cardiac arrest. Every person is different but Anorexia Nervosa is rarely about the food and dieting the behavioral and physical symptoms are usually hiding a deeper pain one of being insecure, emotional drained with a lot of pain and suffering, just as any mental illness it over takes who you are and there is a lot of pain in the process. The nurses and doctors labeled me as devious, sly manipulative I was put into an asylum with manic depressives, heroin addicts and suicidal patients. I was living in a horror movie and could see no light at the end of the tunnel. I went from being a very talented Pastry Chef working in London’s finest 5 star hotels to being mentally unsound!! And felt hopeless and feared I would die in one of these places. I saw many things in these places that have affected my life and views on mental illnesses, I was labeled “The Anorexic Pastry Chef” or that’s “Marys Daughter” I totally lost my identity I spent 10 years trying to figure out who I was.
The doctors told my family that 99% of chronic anorexics with such extreme case die; I was truly blessed as I did not as there was a different plan for my life and I was not ready to die. I remember watching a TV broadcast about running the New Zealand marathon I told my nurse I was going to do that and she laughed saying I could not even run to the toilet, that was in 1989!
I left England in 1990 I remember I weighed 80 pounds as that was the condition to be able to visit my family from the commune I was destined to die in, I purchased a plane ticket to Bangkok and with a back pack, an open mind I set out on a journey to find out who I was, it was like being born again with no nurses watching me 24/7 psychiatrists to talk to I was literally on my own I remember the first time I ate a doughnut took me 1 week to eat the entire thing but I never threw it away or hid it! I observed other women the same age as me 25 all looking so happy; I would eventually travel to over 40 countries I ended up in Puerto Rico were I discovered the sport of triathlon doing my first tri at Vega Baja in 1993 on a borrowed racing bike I won my age group and was immediately hooked! At 30 years old I had discovered triathlons, and in 1994 did my first Iron distance race the Vineman. I never thought I have not trained enough or I am not ready I just wanted to feel free and push my body over these three sports on my terms, and knowing how important the nutrition was! I became a triathlete and also am a PADI Scuba instructor. I still make pastries and specialty cakes occasionally but I am doing what I love and do not own scales and only go on them when a visit to the doctor’s office is necessary, numbers are still important but that would be the ones on my monitor telling me my heart rate! As being alive with a healthy heart beat is the greatest gift we can have!
I realized I had to be in control of my life and as with everything I did I had to do it 100% due to my compulsive obsessive ways. I feared rejection and in many ways still do, I love to hear approval and can be devastated if something I do does not go right. But I have learnt through the sport of triathlon that sometimes things do not always go as planned and you cannot please every- one all the time! Life is not always viewed through rose tinted glasses and there is going to be negativity the important thing is to keep moving forward and appreciate who YOU are as you need to love yourself and accept yourself for who you are before anyone else does.
Photo: Josh Baker/Rick Kent
Since leaving England and deciding to take charge of my destiny I have completed over 400 multi-sport events I won the Puerto Rican National Championships for triathlon in 1999 and specialized in double and triple iron distances and my favorite race is Hawaii Ultraman which I have met many great people and toed the line for 14 consecutive years. I love the challenge of ultra trail running and finished the Costa Rica coastal challenge in 2005, I am in constant recovery mode putting my energy into being healthy so I can participate in the things I love I still have trouble sometimes with food I look at labels and channel my obsessive compulsive habits into sport I have a wonderful grand daughter and a little dog I run with but also I have a great husband who keeps me on the right path. I had a great support system with doctors, nurses, family and friends but ultimately I had to admit I had a problem to be able to move forward.
Anorexia Nervosa and other eating disorders can be treated there is always hope, I suffer from bone loss and have had a lot of dental issues I also suffer from a hearing loss, but I will take that as I am live & happy and living my life to the fullest, I just wanted to share my personnel story with this awful eating disorder in the hope I can help and reach out to others who are suffering to give hope.
Life is much happier when you eat to live and not live to eat! The hotline for Eating disorders is 1-800-931- 2237 and web site is nationaleatingdisorders.org I can be contacted directly through my web page: suzydegazon.com