After breaking out on the international stage with a pair of relay medals at the 2016 Olympic Games just months after her 16th birthday, Taylor Ruck emerged as one of the best female swimmers in the world in 2018 and appeared to be well on her way to superstardom at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
Ruck won a record eight medals at the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast, including beating Australian Ariarne Titmus head-to-head in the women’s 200 freestyle, and four months later at the Pan Pacific Championships in Tokyo, she did the same to reigning Olympic champion Katie Ledecky in the 200 free.
But after that breakout, Ruck’s performances began to decline in the pool, and now she’s opened up on the reasons why.
In a report published in Saturday’s edition of The Globe and Mail, Ruck and several other Canadian Olympians talk openly about their battles with eating disorders and its effect not only on their athletic careers, but also on their mental health and overall well-being.
The article says that Ruck’s issues began following her 2018 success. She began to fixate on everything she put in her body, was convinced any extra weight would slow her down, and after hearing “offhand remarks” from coaches about whether she had gotten bigger, began to eat less and train more.
Ruck put a focus on keeping everything the same, the article says, thinking: ‘If I can prolong how much my body does not change at all, I can keep my success.’
“When you get to a high-performance level, there’s a lot of emphasis on doing all that you can do, just to take off one one-hundredth of a second,” Ruck told The Globe.
“I just thought, ‘I have control over nutrition. Why not do all that I can do?'”
A habit turned into a compulsion, and Ruck eventually began binging, and then, overcome by guilt, purging.
The article mentions a conversation Ruck had with one of her training partners on the way to practice one day, where she revealed the difficulties she’s been going through in regards to eating, and to her surprise, the teammate was going through the same thing.
“It just kind of came out,” Ruck said. “I was pretty surprised that she was going through the same thing – binging and purging. It made it seem normal.”
Swimming Canada High Performance Director John Atkinson says that looking back, the warning signs were there, but weren’t spotted early enough.
“There was a period of time where people were seeing things, not quite so sure what they were seeing,” Atkinson said.
Atkinson told The Globe that Swimming Canada has started to change the way it looks at eating disorders, with hopes of becoming more proactive in recognizing problems early on. He added that coaches are now being put through eating disorder training this month.
“We certainly have to be better at identifying it and hopefully supporting it,” he said. “We can all be better. We can all improve.
“Are we 100 percent there? No, we’re not. But we’re taking these steps towards being better.”
Ruck won a trio of bronze medals on the Canadian women’s relays at the 2019 World Championships while picking up three top-five individual finishes across the women’s 100 free, 100 back and 200 back.
At this past summer’s Olympic Games, Ruck only swam the preliminary heats in the Canadian women’s 4×100 free relay, and was left off of the 4×200 free relay entirely.
“I think it was for the best,” she said regarding being left off the finals team in the 4×100 free. “I think I was just too emotional at that point.”
Her teammates won silver in the 4×100 free relay final, giving Ruck a third career Olympic medal, and she went on to win a fourth after swimming the preliminary backstroke leg on the women’s 4×100 medley relay that went on to win bronze.
The 21-year-old said that the disorder led her to some pretty dark days, and hopes by shedding light on the issue she can positively impact those that deal with a similar issue in the future.
“I characterize myself as a pretty happy person, and I’d say I was more unhappy than not when I was eating less than I should have,” she said. “And it kind of got to the point where I was having suicidal thoughts.
“It steals everything from you. There’s no room for anything else in your brain.”
After taking a two-year hiatus due to the Olympics and the COVID-19 pandemic, Ruck is back training at Stanford University with eyes down the line on the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris. She notes that she’s still working through the disorder, but is beginning to feel stronger in the water.
The Globe and Mail article also featured stories of Canadian Olympians India Sherret (women’s ski cross), Kirsten Moore-Towers (women’s figure skating), Haley Smith (women’s mountain biking), François Imbeau-Dulac (men’s diving) and Gillian Carleton (women’s cycling).
According to a 2019 survey of Canadian national team athletes (all sports), 21 percent said they had an eating disorder, according to The Globe, compared to around three percent for the general population.
Thank you for speaking out and up TRuck. You are an inspiration. Wishing you the best. Don’t ever be ashamed. You are human and strong. Good luck and keep being awesome.
Thank you for sharing your story, Taylor! Warm wishes for continued recovery ☺️
Taylor, thank you for speaking up. Don’t live for others’ expectations. Live life for your happiness. You are still swimming faster than 99.99% of people on this earth. You already accomplished so much in this young age. So hopefully no more dark thoughts and only happy ones. Success and failures are common things. Being happy and miserable are common things. Having honors one day and feel shame the next are common things. So it is life. You already succeeded so much as an athlete and a student. We are so proud of you!
“Don’t eat your way out of a taper” “…soft and fluffy isn’t going to cut it without supersuits” “you might not be hungry, maybe you’re just dehydrated” “we need you to come in for some additional cardio before practice” “we might not be the fastest team here, but we’re definitely the fittest” “your goal is to lose 8lbs” …Just some of the outrageous things that were said to my teammates during my 4yrs of NCAA swimming- and I’m sure I’m missing some. It’s such a shame to see yet another amazing athlete fall victim to the totally out-of-line remarks of a coach. This is an issue that I think really needs more attention.
Dear Taylor – you saved lives today. Thanks for speaking up. ❤️
Taylor is so strong and brave to talk about her story. She will help so many athletes and young people with her honesty. Amateur sports takes such a toll on our young people, both physically and mentally. The more we talk about it, the less shame these kids will have
Did she go into therapy for this? Article doesn’t say anything about it. I just really hope she is still receiving the daily/weekly help she needs, so she doesn’t slip backwards again.
Talk about mental health. Eating disorders are developed because of the pressure to perform. Maybe USA Swimming can put some training together for coaches to make them learn what the signs are about eating disorders and help their swimmers instead of putting them down. This happens at all levels and not only with national level swimmers.
Hoping she comes back and rejoins an already very good Canadian relay team.Taylor is a star anywhere near her top form.
Everyone join me on the see-food diet. I swim masters 50lbs over my college weight it is quite fufilling(literally). Fat is buoyant is what I always say. I do feel sympathy for swimmers fighting to drop time and make cuts etc and being told their weight is part of the problem. It should be pretty obvious that weight shaming is a form of abuse and this is a known problem. Maybe they should ban weigh ins and fat testing? Probably.
while those practices may be prevalent in some circles, even if they were banned overnight, there are still plenty of ‘reminders’ everywhere in media and society in general.
the way i see it: a bigger factor in overcoming disorders like this is a SOLID foundation in nutrition/recovery knowledge. no, an instagram video or facebook blog post doesnt count.
this is information that i never came across during my education through undergrad(us based) and probably because i didnt make it far as an athlete, it also never came up there. yet, it has helped me become a much healthier individual now.
personally, i think it would be worth it not only for elites but everyone, specially if those… Read more »