Kayaker overcomes eating disorder & self-mutilation to become SEA Games champion

Kayaker overcomes eating disorder & self-mutilation to become SEA Games champion
Kayaker Suzanne Seah.

As a national canoeist, Suzanne Seah has steered her kayak through some of the choppiest waters amid unpredictable condition.

She has three SEA Games gold medals in the K2 200m and 500m events to her name, but the 24-year-old's biggest victory may just be staying afloat when an eating disorder and a self-harm problem threatened to pull her under.

By sharing her story, Seah hopes to encourage those who are facing similar issues to seek help and appreciate life.

"I was in a girls' school, and there were a lot of skinny girls. My school was next to a boys' school. Boys like skinny girls, so you do the math," she told The New Paper.

"It could have been something a boy said, or his body language, I can't really remember because it happened when I was around 15, but I started to feel like I needed to be thin to fit in.

"And so I started eating only an apple a day for about six months. To suppress my hunger, I drank a lot of water."

Seah lost 15kg, but instead of feeling happier, things almost spiralled out of control.

When she graduated to junior college, her self-harming behaviour escalated as Seah started to cut herself.

"I'm quite a non-confrontational person," said Seah. "For example, when someone is making remarks about me and it gets irritating and I can't rebut him, or when something bad happens and I can't do anything about it, I'll cut myself."

Seah continued to battle her demons even after she was drafted into the national team, as her parents, coach Balasz Babella and K2 partner Stephenie Chen were worried about her well-being.

"I used to smack her damn hard, and told her: 'You want pain? I'll smack you," said Chen.

"She needed to realise for herself and, thankfully, she did."

What Seah began to see was that if she had not changed her ways, she would never be the best canoeist she could be.

She said: "My eating problem affected training because I was not as strong as I should be. My cutting problem also meant that the wounds would re-open when doing weights and, because we are often in the water, they get infected and never healed properly.

"If I keep this up, I won't be good at my sport, but I really want to be good at it."

Through her own determination and support from family, friends and teammates, Seah started eating better and stopped cutting herself.

As Seah starts her SEA Games campaign today, where she is aiming to strike gold once again, she wants to send a positive message to people who are struggling with eating problems and self-harm issues.

"Stop telling yourself no one cares. Go and get more friends, surround yourself with more positive people, and you will see that life isn't so bad," she said.

"Eat what makes you comfortable, and work your way up from there. It's difficult, but it will be worth it."


This article was first published on June 06, 2015.
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