World-champion hurdler Sally Pearson has opened up about her ongoing private battle with anxiety. In the April issue of The Australian Women's Weekly, Sally, who has suffered from anxiety most of her adult life, reveals how even the simplest social interaction can be a struggle.
"I was at the local shops. This lovely lady called my name and I froze. On the track, with sometimes 80,000 people in the stands, I'm completely in control," Sally explains to The Weekly. "Put me at the checkout, where I'm just little old Sal, and it comes over me like a tsunami and it's far greater than shyness – I feel like a deer in headlights!"
Now aged 31, Sally – who is the current 100m women's hurdles world champion and Olympic gold and silver medallist - jumps hurdles for a living. Her anxiety battle, something she hardly speaks about, is just another hurdle for the athlete. While she struggles with its debilitating side-effects daily, she manages it and never allows it to affect her on and off the track ambitions or her determination to be number one.
Not shying away from the topic of her anxiety, Sally tells of the amazing transformation she's made over the past two years to prepare for the upcoming Commonwealth Games in the Gold Coast.
"I know what people say about me and understand why they think I am a little odd. I'm really open to talking about it, because I get better with it every day. I suffer from a condition known as social anxiety, which has been at times more debilitating than any of the physical injuries," Sally says. "I'm not great in situations where I'm out of my depth or feel I have to talk to someone and have no idea what to say."
"It could be why so many people read me wrong. They see me as a bit tricky – they take that gritty steeliness, and my sometimes clumsy social skills, and minds are made up that I'm either arrogant or aloof. Or seemingly so self-absorbed I only function when I'm on the track. Nothing could be further from the truth."
Sally is definitely a lot more than her anxiety battle. After all, she has cemented her status as one of the top five sportspeople in this country and perhaps Australia's greatest track-and-field athlete.
"I'm a high achiever. I hate the feeling of losing almost as much as I love a win. I'm a proud perfectionist – I don't believe you can be the best in the world at what you do without that DNA. If that's my pathology, bring it on!"
For all the critics predicting that Pearson's career might end because of physical or mental injuries that she suffers, Sally retorts: "I don't give up that easily. As clichéd as this sounds, stumbling blocks have been the making of me, my stepping stones to victory. Since I can remember, I've been fearless and the bullies gave up on me pretty quickly!"
*Read our full interview with Sally in the April issue of The Australian Women's Weekly."