Kirsty Ewen SAMH.jpg

My sporting life

#SportPanel member Kirsty speaks openly and bravely about her mental health journey

­­It sounds pretty clichéd but being involved in sport actually saved my life. Now I’m lucky enough to work and volunteer in a number of different sports roles and it still continues to have a hugely positive impact for me and my life.

I want to share my story in the hope I can make a positive change for at least one person who can relate. This is not something that has come naturally for me. A big part of my recovery has been about breaking free of the embarrassment and shame I felt, being open about my struggles – past and present – and sharing my story has truly helped me to move forward and keep going over the last couple of years.

Making connections

When I was in 3rd year at school my Active Schools coordinator got me involved in sports leadership. I had no idea then what opportunities and experiences would be presented to me or what an impact the programme, or she, would have on my life, but since that first yes I have never looked back.

While completing the first award, I found that I really enjoyed leading sessions and encouraging participation of younger people within my community. I started volunteering at gymnastics, cheerleading and multi sports sessions.

Unknown to my Active Schools coordinator, when she started working with me I was struggling with my mental health. I was self-harming.

This meant I gave up on my dreams of becoming a swimmer because self-harming became the most important thing in my life and I felt I had to make a choice. I couldn’t see a way of doing both, so I gave up on swimming. I kind of gave up on myself, too.

During this time I also stopped attending school. Things were so overwhelming and I didn’t see the point in working towards a future I couldn’t see. Thankfully my Active Schools coordinator kept working closely with me and kept me involved in the work we were doing, despite my feeling that I didn’t deserve to be. I found that being involved in the sports leadership programme provided me with a positive focus and a real reason to keep going.

Opportunities through sport

My leadership journey opened doors to a number of once-in-a-lifetime experiences, including a trip to Malawi to deliver Sports Leader Courses, working for Coca-Cola at the London 2012 Olympic Games and volunteering as a Shuttle Host with the Queens Baton Relay for Glasgow 2014.

I have also been involved as a medal bearer and athlete escort at the IPC World Swimming Championships and I am the domestic open water events coordinator, organising the Scottish Open Water Championships on an annual basis. I am also looking forward to volunteering in aquatics at the Glasgow European Championships later this year. Looking back at that girl who didn’t see a way out of the darkness, it’s pretty amazing to realise just how much I have been able to achieve since then – not that life is perfect now!

Being selected to be part of the Young People’s Sport Panel has been crucial in helping me deal with bad spells with my mental health more recently. I know first hand what a difference sport can make and I want as many people as possible to experience that.

My confidence in myself has continued to grow and my acceptance of who I am and what I’ve been through has been important in helping me get to where I am today. I still have to work nearly every day at fighting the negative thoughts and feelings and the anxiety that I have around not being good enough, to allow me to keep moving forward. Even on the hardest days I know I have to continue; I know I am worth more than what my head tells me.

If I hadn’t got involved in sport I have no idea what I would be doing with my life. Honestly, I don’t even know if I would still be alive if I hadn’t had the focus of leadership and volunteering during some of my worst struggles. I am passionate about making a difference for young people in sport across Scotland and I really believe in the power of sport to change lives.

My advice for others

If you’re struggling, please reach out, there is always something to fight for and it really will get better. People want to help but you have to let them in. You are worth fighting for.

Find out more

Read about Kirsty's involvement in the promotion of sport for women and girls.  

Follow #SportPanel on social media and discover more about the programme at the sportscotland website.

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