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  • Writer's pictureMackenzie Stewart

Introducing Me Part:1

Let me introduce myself!


You may already have an idea of who I am, or at least a simplified version of me, but I haven't taken the time to truly introduce myself and share how I've reached this point. Some of you may know the young girl I used to be, some have witnessed the relentless determination of the athlete within me or encountered my stubborn and outspoken nature. While others have experienced my nurturing side as a devoted family member and empath, witnessing the emotional complexities and insecurities that make me human. Some have seen the adventurous spirit that fuels my futuristic and forward-thinking outlook on life. And there are those who will recognize me as a driven, resilient, and unwavering professional, someone who brings ideas to life and never stops dreaming. However, only a few have been exposed to the entirety of my story, and now I feel it's time to share it openly.


There are multiple reasons why it's important for me to share my story with all of you. Firstly, as a woman in sport striving to break barriers and create opportunities for others, sharing my experiences can raise awareness and foster a strong community that supports women in sport. Furthermore, I believe that to honour my values and be the woman I've always aspired to be, I must be transparent in order to take on this leadership role. It's important to me to set an example and serve as a role model for the next generation and for those around me today. Throughout my life, I've always had a natural inclination toward leadership, and as I embark on this new chapter, I want to continue leading by sharing my journey.


Transparency is a value I hold dear, as it fosters deep connections and creates a safe space for us to ask for help, lean on others, and freely express our insecurities, hopes, and dreams. Sharing my story is important because I want to serve as a beacon of light and a role model. I want others to find solace and strength in my experiences, to realize they're not alone, and to amplify the voices of women as we strive for equality in this world.


Initially, I had planned on sharing all the moments from my past I felt had a defining impact on the person I am today. However, as I began to write, I realized how challenging it was to condense my story while still capturing the essence of what I wanted to convey. So, I've had to make some adjustments and I hope you all understand. While I still intend to share more of my story in the future, I feel it's important to dedicate this particular post to a topic that requires more time and effort, from both myself and those reading it.


It has taken countless hours of reflection, emotional processing, shedding tears, feeling drained, and even experiencing moments of depression to reach this point. There were times when I had to step away from my computer and retreat from the world, and moments when I lacked the energy to continue writing this piece. But now, I believe I have finally found the words to express this particular aspect of my journey.


Please bear with me as I delve into this part of my story, I know it might get a little deep and detailed, but I hope it is worth your while and will touch the people who need it most. And don't worry, in the future, I'll share more of my experiences in a way that's easier to digest and navigate. I really appreciate your patience and understanding as we go on this journey together. Alright, let's jump straight into it!


 

PART 1:


When I reflect on my younger years, it's clear to me now that what I perceived as fearlessness was actually a touch of recklessness. I didn't always make the wisest decisions. I was constantly challenging myself against the boys, eagerly seeking out new obstacles to conquer, and relishing in the satisfaction of victory. I was a force to be reckoned with, undeterred by the unknown, and oblivious to the potential dangers lurking around me. My mom's well-meaning cautions and advice to avoid dangerous situations were met with nothing but laughter. I firmly believed that standing tall at 5'11" and weighing 170 pounds, I possessed the strength and self-assurance to handle anything life threw my way.


Looking back now, I can't help but shake my head at my naivety. I found myself in stupid situations, foolishly believing that my strength and stubbornness were invincible shields. And I hoped they would be shields if the situation ever arose where I needed to use them.


Little did I know that I was in fact not invincible and I would eventually feel the fear that vulnerability instills in people… I learned a new definition for the word fear at the age of 24, I lost the fearless little girl I once was and I am now overcome with a newfound anxiety that chokes me every time I am in a situation that even slightly resembles feeling unsafe.


My sexual assault wasn't in some dark alley or shady neighbourhood; it happened in my own home, where I felt safe and secure. It was after a long training camp, and I had invited teammates over to celebrate. Fuelled by a few too many drinks, I eventually made a not-very-conscious decision to put myself to bed to sleep off the haze I had put myself into. Little did I know one of the most traumatizing, uncomfortable, awful, and disturbing moments of my life awaited me.


Bits and pieces of that night flash through my mind like the scary parts of a movie that you can recall for years after watching. I can still feel the unsettling sensation of being moved on my bed, of unwelcome touches that made my skin crawl. Writing this now, I feel nauseated with a mix of anger, anxiety, shame, and sadness. That night I knew deep down that something was wrong, that this was not what I wanted, but my body was frozen, disconnected from my own will. I tried to move away, rigidly shuffling to press myself against the wall as if it could shield me from being touched. I remember saying "No.” The one word that cannot be mistaken, the word that should have stopped anything from continuing further… But the memory fades in and out, leaving me with fragmented pieces of a terrifying experience. I am almost thankful not to recall everything that happened that night, but at the same time, it leaves moments to the imagination that I am not sure are much better. The things I do recall though are very clear and I am not foggy about the moments that leave me feeling like a piece of me was taken. The moments that leave me numb and that make me want to scream and puke all at the same time.


In the morning I woke up initially feeling groggy, then as I realized there was a person beside me I was alert, and words can't even describe how uncomfortable I felt in my own room. Wishing that the events were a bad dream, but knowing they weren’t, I started to tear up and felt a lump in my throat as I tried to process how and what had happened. Anxious, ashamed, and scared, I was torn between sharing my pain or burying it deep within. I questioned whether I should dismiss it as insignificant and pretend it never happened, as if it was no big deal and I should be able to push my emotions and nausea aside. How could I face anyone? Where was my strength when I needed it most? The weight of disappointment and self-disgust hung heavily over me. How could I not have stopped this, I was so sure I would be tough enough to end any situation that could make me feel this way. I was once again frozen against my wall, contemplating how to get out of my room with the least amount of interaction possible.


Society ingrains in us the importance of being nice, of not causing harm, and it twisted my thoughts. Maybe it was my fault, I wondered. If only I hadn't been drinking, if I had been more sober, perhaps I could have been clearer when I said “No", maybe I would have locked my door behind me. I desperately tried to convince myself that maybe he didn't realize the impact of his actions and that he didn't mean to hurt me. These thoughts continue to trigger me today. I know that what happened was not my fault, that what happened was wrong, that I am not to blame yet this narrative cycles through my head on repeat. I mean, he seemed like a decent guy.


With these conflicting thoughts running through my head, I wanted to scream at him to get out, to stay away from me, to leave, to never talk to me again. But I was silent, nothing of the sort came out of my mouth, and I was terrified to even think about that word that is used to describe what had happened. I still find it hard to use the term but for the purpose of this post and helping to take the stigma away from the word… I was raped. The only thing I wanted was a hot shower, hoping to wash away every remnant of that night, to peel the skin off my body, hoping I would feel less disgusted about myself and start fresh, pretending it never occurred and that I could convince my body and mind I was me again.


But life has a way of pulling us back to reality and your fight or flight kicks in. I guess I chose flight because I quickly got myself out of bed, threw on a hoodie and sweatpants, and walked out of my room to start tackling the errands I needed to get done before leaving on tour for the competition season. It still baffles me how I prioritized everyone else's comfort, going to great lengths to avoid causing any inconvenience or discomfort to my family, friends, teammates or that individual. I ignored my pain, hiding behind a smile, spreading laughter and joy to those around me. But deep inside, I was numb. I was in shock. I was suffocating beneath the weight of unspoken grief. My heart was aching. And I was filled with a profound sense of loss. I carried a heavy burden of fear, unable to find the courage to speak about what had transpired. I stopped loving myself, I couldn't even look in the mirror without being disgusted with what I allowed to happen… (I know better now that I did not “allow” it to happen but I still struggle to believe the words “it's not my fault”.)


I grappled with conflicting emotions. I didn't want to ruin someone's life if they hadn't intended to cause me pain or didn't realize the severity of their actions. But by doing this it was ruining my life, causing me pain and it was not my fault. I felt ashamed that I wasn't "strong" enough to stop it, that I hadn't done more in the moment. The fear of being misunderstood added to my silent torment. That I would face judgment or disgust from loved ones and teammates kept me from allowing anyone to know something was wrong. So instead I started coping using what was available around me, I put myself in adrenaline-seeking situations just to feel something, I drank way more than I should have to try and find some sense of emotion. I was a mess when I drank letting tears leak out of me with no explanations to those around me as to why. I went “dark”. I went to a dark place where I stopped caring. I lost the will to want more and I lost one of the things I love most about myself. I lost my optimism for my own life.


I was also confronted with the harsh reality that I hadn't truly understood the experiences of others close to me who had confided in being victims, who had endured rape, exploitation or sexual assault. The weight of their struggles crashed down on me, and I was forced to confront the painful truth. I couldn't comprehend why they couldn't simply put an end to their suffering until I found myself walking in their shoes. It was a gut-wrenching revelation, one that shattered my preconceived notions and left me heartbroken, angry, and sad. It had never been something in their control, just as it wasn’t in my control. We were not at fault!


In that moment, I felt an overwhelming desire to ease their pain, to be their advocate, to make things better for them. I wished I could turn back time and prevent their assaults, sparing them the agony they had endured. But here's the thing: I was broken. And before I could even think about helping others, I had to find a way to put the pieces of myself back together… (still working on it currently)


The entire season was a battle, with a mask on my face and a numbness consuming me from within. But it was during the following preseason, almost a year later, that things took an even darker turn. Every day, I had to face the person responsible for my pain, acting as if everything was normal. Yet, beneath the surface, my skin literally crawled, tears welled up, and anxiety debilitated me making me a fragile shell of the person I once was. The weight on my chest made it hard to breathe, my heart raced uncontrollably, and a simple conversation would break me down. Walking into our training facility, my workplace became a trigger for panic attacks. I'd spend 30 minutes in the parking lot, desperately trying to gather myself before stepping inside. Training became nearly impossible. My athletic performance suffered greatly, I couldn't focus, couldn't perform, and I lost all ability to go into the team gym. I withdrew, confined myself to my home gym, and contemplated quitting my sport altogether. Quitting was fueled by the belief that I had nothing to lose since bobsled wasn't my source of income.


I was so sad, I was faking every interaction, I had lost myself completely and the joy from sport was gone. The mere thought of anything related to bobsled made me incredibly uncomfortable. And just when it seemed like it couldn't get any worse, fate threw another curveball at me. During a training session on ice, I suffered a tear in my post-tib tendon. The pain put me out for months, and the wound required 8 stitches. Initially, it was assumed to be just a surface wound, so I continued to train through the pain as best I could, preparing for an upcoming camp. However, after two weeks, the pain persisted, hindering my ability to run, jump, lift, or fully extend my ankle in any way. It took an MRI to reveal the true extent of the injury—a parallel tendon split right down the middle, an unexpected setback that kept me from sliding. As a result, I had to sit out the entire Olympic season, a devastating blow to my already fragile state.


Anger consumed me. My outlet for stress and mental well-being, my only coping mechanism at the time, was abruptly taken away. Running was out of the question, most of my gym workouts were off-limits, and I struggled to find any semblance of positivity. The desire to quit, to turn the page and start anew, to indulge in the negative emotions that had accumulated over the past year, grew stronger with each passing day. Everything my life once was had been taken away, my community was gone, my sanity, and my work, and I was navigating a world I was unfamiliar with in a state that did not allow for much success.


Taking a break from my sport provided a temporary escape from confronting my inner turmoil. It offered a way to avoid facing the anxiety that loomed over my athletic pursuits. However, during this time, new information came to light, bringing with it a whole new set of challenges. For about 9 years, I have been competing as a high-level athlete without questioning why I wasn't experiencing a hormonal cycle or getting my period regularly. I attributed it to the pill I was taking and the shortened gap between packs. But that explanation was thrown out when, four months after my injury, my period returned. I had been training less or not at all, and my eating habits had changed... and lo and behold, my period made its comeback.


So, in addition to everything else I was dealing with, I now had to confront the reality that I was experiencing REDS (Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport). I learned that it wasn't just about the absence of my period; it also affected my bone density and potentially my future family planning (although research in that area is limited). Given my desire to have a family one day, it became a priority that I couldn't ignore. However, at the time, I lacked the capacity to address it properly, I didn’t have the energy to make the calls, the money to pay the nutritionist, or the self-love to make it a priority. (I have recently started working with a nutritionist to ensure my overall health, including my menstrual cycle.)


While I had opened up to a few trusted individuals about my struggles, I was intentionally avoiding the obvious truth: I needed professional help to overcome all that I struggled with. Unfortunately, my financial situation prevented me from seeking the much-needed assistance. And so, I found myself continuing to evade the issue, unable to confront it head-on.


Fortunately, I had an incredible source of support from my boyfriend. He continued to encourage me to seek professional help, offering his unwavering support in various ways. It was his belief in my healing journey that pushed me to finally start engaging with a professional and began the process of sharing my story.


Sharing my story and being transparent about my experiences was incredibly difficult, but looking back, I wish I had found the courage to speak up sooner. Shortly after my assault, I discovered that someone I deeply cared about was struggling with a similar ordeal. If only I had broken my silence earlier, perhaps they wouldn't have felt so alone, ashamed, scared, guilty, and fearful. I carry a heavy burden of guilt and pain for not being a role model and support for them. I wish I could have done more to guide them on their journey. To love them through their struggles. To make sure they felt heard and understood. To remind them it is not their fault.


This is one of the reasons why I am telling my story now. I believe that the more we talk about these issues openly and honestly, the less power our attackers and those who commit such disgusting acts will have over us. I no longer want to carry the burden of self-hatred for something that was never my fault. By sharing our stories, we reclaim a piece of ourselves that was stolen. We stop hiding, we receive support, we find love, and these factors contribute to our healing. Of course, I must admit that changing my internal dialogue from shame and self-hatred is a continuous effort, but I know it's the right path to follow, even if it's easier said than done.


We all follow our own unique paths in healing and discover coping mechanisms to deal with the aftermath of such traumatic events. Each person possesses their toolbox in life, and I consider myself fortunate to have the tools that help shape my journey towards healing. HOWEVER, no toolbox is inherently right or wrong, and we must refrain from judging others based on how they cope and react to such events. Sometimes, we may pass judgment on others because of their coping mechanisms, but what truly matters is that they are alive and fighting. Often, we only see the healthy and happy survivors who have successfully navigated through their trauma, and this can create a skewed expectation of what recovery should look like. What remains unseen are the lives lost to those who didn't have the same resources or tools available to them, preventing them from continuing the fight for a healthy life.


I write these words because I've heard people say, "Many go through similar experiences and handle it well or choose a better healing path." Unfortunately, this still happens far too frequently today. We cannot assume that just because we witness survivors leading fulfilling lives, it should be easy for everyone to move on. We must acknowledge that countless individuals don’t make it through their own battles. If you're reading this and it strikes a nerve, resonates with you, or makes you feel less alone, I encourage you to reach out to me or someone you trust. Allow yourself to reclaim your life, build a support system of people you trust, and embark on the healing journey you deserve. It's not fair, and it's not right. We can't change the past, but we can take hold of our future.


I'm still in the process of working on myself and finding ways to cope and heal, but sharing my story has been a significant step for me. It has allowed me to breathe a little easier and feel like I'm making a positive impact in the world. My desire to compete and create a life in sports that enables me to thrive and inspire the next generation remains strong. Recently, I made the transition from being a brakewoman to becoming a pilot, reigniting my passion for the sport and discovering new skills that will contribute to my desired level of success.


I experience both good and bad days, where training can feel overwhelming, my eating habits suffer, and my tears flow freely. However, I am fortunate to have a support system that reminds me of my worth and love. Slowly but surely, I am changing my internal dialogue to promote healthier thoughts and beliefs. I have many other stories and experiences to share, including topics like body image and the importance of overall health, which extend beyond mere appearance, goal setting and planning for the future, business endeavours and my outside-the-box thinking. However, I believe those topics deserve their own dedicated space, so I'll save them for another day.


This post marks the end of this particular chapter for now. I hope it has provided you with a more in-depth understanding of who I am, and the journey I am on, and helps those who need it. Thank you for being a part of it, and I look forward to sharing more in the future.





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