By Katie Montgomery
Hannah Hall’s parents weren’t married. Different boyfriends came in and out of her and her siblings’ lives, and almost all of them treated the kids badly.
In her junior year of high school, her cousin who was living with them attempted suicide and was sent to an institution. Hall’s twin sister spiraled into anorexia and depression and eventually quit track. Afterwards, their mother stopped coming to Hall’s track meets.
That’s right about when she stopped eating.
“I felt like I was letting my family down by not being home enough, or that I wasn’t helping,” she said. “And when my mom stopped coming, I felt like I was letting her down. I still don’t know why she stopped coming.”
Part of her anorexia was related to body image. Like many young women, she was negatively affected by the fitness posts on Instagram and Facebook, showcasing beautiful, sculpted and very skinny women.
That and the revealing, tight outfits runners wear every day for track practices and the sport’s open favoritism of leaner, smaller athletes combined for a devastating effect on her self-esteem.
She had lost 15 pounds by the end of her junior year, but it took her over a year to recognize what she was doing.
“I took psychology my senior year, and when we were going over eating disorders I realized, ‘Wait, I do that,’” Hall said. “That’s when it clicked.”
Youngstown was her only option for track and she started running mid-distance this year as a walk-on — meaning she has no scholarship.
“I played four sports in high school and I decided to continue with track because it was my favorite,” she said. “But it’s also the one that caused most of my eating problems. I never struggled mentally in basketball or soccer like I did with track.”
Emily Wollet, assistant athletic director for YSU and former track student-athlete, says eating disorders are rampant in sports like track, swimming and diving. Hall thinks that part of it is how individualized the sport is, and the other part could be how revealing the uniforms are.
“You can look over at another girl and go ‘does my stomach look like that?’” Butta said. “Then before you know it, you’re comparing yourself to everyone around you all the time.”
Recognizing the disorder for what it was helped Hall a lot and that came directly through her education. She knows to keep herself accountable with her roommate and her closest friends, but when it comes to seeking help, she hesitates.
“I don’t want to say I can’t do something,” she said. “It’s just something you’re always taught as an athlete.”
But another reason she hesitates seeking help stems from her mom.
“Even if I was just being difficult as a kid, she’d say stuff like ‘What’s wrong with you,’ or ‘Do I need to take you somewhere to fix you?’” Hall said.
She hopes one day it will fade to the background, but she knows that whenever she gets worried or stressed it will come back. Even if she isn’t starving herself, it’s not uncommon for her to use exercise as an escape. Recently, she rode her bike over 10 miles one way just because she was so frustrated and didn’t know what else to do to cope with the feeling.
She went to campus counseling services once, but they weren’t helpful. Her coaches don’t help like Samantha Vaughan’s did, with every critical comment making her want to stop eating all over again.
If she did seek help, she said it would not be here at YSU — there doesn’t seem to be the right person here for that.
Follow the link to read Part 1 of Montgomery’s story.