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Amber’s Paris dream after swimming helped her recover from eating disorder

When marathon swimmer Amber Keegan’s mental health was at its lowest point as she battled an eating disorder, she believed her Olympic dream was over.

Now, she has her sights set on representing Great Britain at the Paris 2024 Games – and hopes sharing her road to recovery, in the first of three articles, will act as an inspiration to others.

In February, Amber Keegan will dive into the clear, blue waters at Doha Port in a bid to earn her right to become an Olympic athlete.

She will be one of dozens of swimmers taking part in the open water event at the World Championships, which act as a qualification event for the summer spectacle in Paris.

It’s an opportunity the 26-year-old says she is extremely grateful for having lost five years of her career as she struggled with injuries, her mental health and an eating disorder.

A promising 400m Individual Medley swimmer, Amber represented Great Britain at junior level – but after developing an eating disorder, she says the sport itself was the key to her recovery. 

Motivating factor

“Although everyone’s individual situation is different, for me, swimming was a major motivating factor to recover,” said City of Sheffield swimmer Amber.

“My club made it clear that I could only train properly when my health was getting back on track.

“The threat to stop me from swimming entirely was probably the thing to finally make me get professional help through the NHS.

Swim England has published two documents to help raise awareness about the potential health and performance consequences associated with low energy availability.

The guidance is broken down into information for coaches, team managers, support staff and welfare officers, with a separate document focused on specific advice for athletes and parents.

To view the documents, please click here.

“It’s been pretty amazing to see how much my life has changed in a few years and I could never have achieved any of this without fixing my own relationship with my body and with food.”

Amber has welcomed new low energy availability guidance published by Swim England which aims to help coaches, parents and athletes themselves identify the warning signs which could lead to an eating disorder or disordered eating.

“This guide is so useful for starting conversations between coaches, parents and athletes,” said Amber, who finished 18th in the 10k race at the 2023 World Championships in Fukuoka, Japan, in a time of 2:03:30.30.

So helpful

“It gives coaches and parents or guardians clear things that they can ask athletes about. Normalising these conversations and breaking the stigma is a huge part of the work we all need to do to help protect the people we care about from low energy availability.

“This would have been so helpful for me when going through my experiences – it would have given both me and the people around me the vocabulary to actually talk about this issue.

“For example, my irregular periods were something that my family took me to the doctor about when I was younger but we were also told this rubbish that athletes do have irregular periods and it’s fine.

“If we’d all been a bit more clued up earlier then maybe I’d have realised sooner that something wasn’t right with my body when I suffered from low energy availability.

“Not every athlete with low energy availability will develop an eating disorder but most athletes don’t develop an eating disorder overnight – and it often starts as low energy availability. 

“The more athletes we can prevent from getting to this stage, or get help earlier if they do, the better for all of us.”