Going swimmingly: Susie Maroney with her children Capri, River and Paris at Cronulla Beach. Photo: Steven Siewert
Marathon swimmer Susie Maroney has revealed she battled a chronic eating disorder in the dark days at the end of her competitive career.
She is speaking out for the first time to highlight the pressures swimmers face after reports Ian Thorpe is in rehab for depression.
Now a single mother, following two failed marriages, she said it was only the love for her three children - Paris, 5, Capri, 3, and River, almost 2, - that ''saved'' her. After her historic 1998 shark cage swim from Mexico to Cuba, she achieved fame. But when she stopped swimming, she hit rock bottom, gaining 20 kilograms in two years.
''The Cuba swim was a major high - meeting Fidel Castro, going on The David Letterman Show and Jay Leno and then coming home,'' she said.
''But then it was about being down after stopping swimming. I would eat two family-sized bars of chocolate, a packet of biscuits then two litres of Diet Coke to wash it all down.
''It scares me that I would have done that to my body but there's a lot of pressures in being an athlete and people looking at you. As a swimmer you are in a cossie all the time.
''I used to cry through my goggles because the training was so hard. You push your body so much - but when you stop you're still hard on yourself.''
When a friend told her she had put on weight, saying, ''You look more bloated in real life,'' she entered a vicious cycle of eating, vomiting, purging and dieting.
''I went home and cried and cried and cried - and ate and ate. I liked myself enough, thank goodness, to stop,'' she said. She then became borderline anorexic, she said, adopting a rigid eating program.
''For breakfast I would have a dry piece of toast and cut it up in little pieces. It had to be exactly at 8am. Then morning tea had to be at exactly 10am and I would have two Vita-Weats with Vegemite. Lunch was another piece of dry bread cut up … Dinner would be soup with three Vita-Weats. And that was it.''
At 170 centimetres tall, her weight fluctuated between 76 and 49.5 kilograms in three years.
''I felt so faint I went into hospital once and the nurse whispered, 'Has she got an eating disorder?' because my pulse was seriously low,'' she said. ''I was hoping they wouldn't talk about it and I just left.''
Counselling didn't help: ''I felt it was me who had to overcome it.''
Maroney now hopes to become a swimming coach. ''You don't want to say this about yourself because it is a kind of a weakness,'' she said. ''I haven't even told my mum. It's stomach churning telling you … but in a way it is a relief and if it helps one person [it's good]. Swimming is such a tough sport, and then it finishes.''