World and Olympic champion Elinor Barker has revealed a long term struggle with pain caused by the condition endometriosis.
The 24-year-old says she sought help a year and a half before the Rio Olympics, and was diagnosed with the condition in 2018.
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After reading about an Olympic swimmer who had had surgery to relieve the symptoms, she had a procedure in June last year.
The condition affects one in 10 women of reproductive age. It occurs when tissue similar to the lining of the womb grows elsewhere, such as the ovaries and fallopian tubes.
Symptoms vary, but can include severe pain, fatigue and heavy periods.
Speaking exclusively to BBC Sport Wales, Barker said she trained through the pain for years.
“The first time I had really bad pain from it, I was in a friend’s kitchen and I just fell on the floor instantly,” she said in an interview.
The initial episode was short lived, but returned worse. Barker said: “It just started happening more and more often, closer together until actually I felt like that for hours at a time and wouldn’t be able to stand up.”
“Which isn’t much fun if you’re trying to train or race at a World Championship level,” she added.
Diagnosis was not swift, Barker said, “nobody could find a problem. Everyone told me ‘it’s normal, it’s fine, just carry on with it’, so I did for a little while, but I kept going back.”
It was before the 2018 World Championships that Barker finally received a diagnosis. However, she found little relief, saying: “I couldn’t find anything on the internet that was going to help me, because any advice to deal with the pain is things like exercise more, have a good diet, basically anything that athletes do anyway.”
The 2019 scratch race world champion, who took gold over Kirsten Wild of the Netherlands in February, sought surgical intervention in June 2018.
She became interested in the option after reading that Australian swimmer, Emily Seebohm, had been treated for the condition after scoring an Olympic gold in 2016.
“I’m unbelievably glad I did go through the surgery, after a couple of weeks I felt so much better.
“I know it’s not the kind of thing that goes away. So I’m not cured, it will gradually come back over the next few years, and I’ll probably have to have surgery every thee or four years if I want to live a healthy life and be training and racing.”
“But I feel much less nervous about it this time round because I know it works and it helps.”
An English Institute of Sport (EIS) survey showed that 50 per cent of women within the High Performance System said their cycle affected performance, whilst 30 per cent said periods were erratic or absent, putting them at risk of long term negative health effects such as deteriorating bone density.
The EIS has now launched a series of ‘SmartHER’ workshops, aimed specifically at bringing female athletes together to address issues that affect women. They’ve also carried out workshops with coaches, to help train them up.
Dr Emma Ross, Co-Head of Physiology at the EIS told Cycling Weekly: “We took a ‘female athlete fundamentals’ workshop on a roadshow, talking to over 200 coaches, athletes and sports science staff. So many of them agreed that female specific factors were often poorly understood and therefore overlooked in the training of female athletes.”