The British long jumper – Jazmin Sawyers has urged more sportswomen to shatter the taboo about how the menstrual cycle which can affect performance after being forced to withdraw from a competition at the weekend because of chronic period pain.
Sawyers, who won silver medals at the 2016 European championships and 2014 Commonwealth Games, said she had pulled out of a meeting in Boston on Sunday because she was unable to walk more than a few steps and had intense leg pain.
“I wasn’t going to give an explanation online about why I pulled out of yesterday’s competition but this is something that isn’t talked about enough in sport, and it ought to be,” she wrote on Twitter. “About an hour before I was supposed to leave for the track I came on my period – I get VERY bad periods for the first 1-2 days. Can’t walk, intense pain radiating down my legs, head spinning, full body sweating, shouting, crying kind of bad.
“5 mins before leaving for the track all of the above happened. If you don’t have periods, or don’t have them this bad, it’s hard to imagine why I can’t just suck it up and compete, but when you’re in so much pain you can’t walk more than a few steps, and your legs buckle under your own weight, there’s no chance you can jump.”
Sawyers, 23, also admitted that she had endured similar problems at the Olympics in Rio, where she finished eighth – and said she wanted to speak out because she was sure other young athletes were suffering in silence. “This happens almost every month,” she said. “Last month I almost missed a flight because I couldn’t drive with the pain, and last year I was only able to compete in the qualification round of the Olympics due to a whole load of painkillers, and still felt awful.
“It’s something I’ve been working with medical staff to fix, but we haven’t yet found a solution. We discuss injuries and illness openly, but this is something we don’t talk about and I wanted to put it out there because I’m sure there are other young athletes dealing with it. Girl, I believe you when you say how bad it is – you’re not alone.”
In 2015 a study conducted by the female athlete health group – a collaborative project between St Mary’s University and University College London – looked at the effects of periods on 1,862 women, including 90 who were considered elite level. It found that 41.7% of them said their menstrual cycle had affected performance.
That same year, former British No1 tennis player Annabel Croft said that menstruation was “the last taboo” in sport after Heather Watson put her first-round defeat at the 2015 Australian Open defeat down dizziness and low energy due to “girl things”.
“I get it sometimes,” explained Watson. “I’m going to go and see the doctor afterwards and see if there’s anything I can do to help with times like these in the future.
Sawyers – who also made it through several rounds of the ITV talent show The Voice earlier this year – says she is now “fine” and will be jumping at next week’s Oslo Diamond League meeting as planned.