For as long as I could remember, I was an athlete. My parents put me into sports to release my energy, make friends, be social and just to have fun. The uniforms were always baggy soccer shorts or pants, my body could handle what seemed like anything. I was confident and I really had no care in the world.
When I reached high school, this all changed very fast as I started getting monthly periods. We now had to use communal locker rooms and my two uniforms consisted of an all white top and pants for softball and royal blue skin tight spandex for volleyball. I quickly began to dread my period week during sport season.
I struggled with the typical symptoms of feeling lethargic and getting dehydrated easily. Dehydration hits me hard since I sweat 20x more than the average person, and I am prone to passing out. So dealing with all of this while running sprints, diving on the ground for balls, and lifting weights didn’t go too well together. It was expected from coaches and teammates that womxn athletes would get their period at least once during the season, so I never felt I could use it as an excuse to take breaks, move slower or rest. I didn’t want to be seen as weak or want to have my spot taken from me, so I constantly pushed myself. There were practices where I would see colors while on the brink of fainting, but still refused that a period was a valid reason to take a break. If all my other teammates never stopped, why should I?
I not only struggled with physical symptoms, but my self confidence really dwindled as a menstruating athlete. The only period products I knew of were pads and tampons, and I could not figure out how to use a tampon until I was 18. The only option feasible for me was pads. That a challenge in itself with worrying about having the pad shifting or the adhesive getting stuck to my butt. Unfortunately, others were quick to judge my situation.
In middle school this was no issue; everyone around me was still only using pads and we were all nervous about our periods together. In high school, everyone around me was using tampons, and I felt left behind, still using brick sized pads in my itty bitty spandex. College was by far the hardest. Communal locker rooms and showers were used and everyone on my team had tampon usage down...and then here was me: 18 years old, couldn’t use a tampon, and more embarrassed than ever. I began to think, “well what’s worse, using a pad and being made fun of by COLLEGE people or free bleeding through my uniform?” One time, I made the mistake of forgoing any product. While playing in my first division three volleyball match, I bled through my royal blue spandex for a crowd to see.
After my career as an athlete ended, I became more confident with myself and found an appreciation for the power of my body and period. I began talking about my period publicly on my podcast and social media account. Through this I found out I was not the only person struggling with tampon usage. I learned there were so many other athletes like me who felt they couldn’t take rests, as they would have been perceived as weak. I learned that we all felt like we were alone. It hurts to think about how much time we spent dreading our cycles or caring what other people say.
Far too many young girls and womxn quit their sports because of these same issues. We need support, love and to be reminded of our strength. It is amazing and a privilege to be a menstruating athlete.
And finally, some essential tips from my experience:
1. Hydrate extra during your monthly period.
2. LISTEN TO YOUR BODY! Your body and health is far more important than your sport.
3. Keep your bag stocked with extra uniform bottoms, underwear and period products.
4. Choose the best period product for you. What works for you may not be what works for your team mates! (If you struggle with tampons like I did, look into period panties)
5. Use a period tracking app so you can keep your mind and body prepared.
6. Don’t be afraid to speak up or to others about your period; we are all in this together.
Written by: Marissa Contelmo
THE GiRLS ROOM Podcast episodes on this topic: