FROM TRADEGY TO TRIUMPH
One incredible woman’s fight to find herself again.
By Dani Calvert
The truth is, I’ve been sitting here for hours trying to figure out where to start, writing about things in our lives isn't always easy but I wanted to share my story with you in the hopes that maybe it would help just one girl realise she isn't alone. My name is Dani and this is my story.
When I was seven years of age an event occurred that would reshape my life and my world. Being so young my brain was not capable of comprehending what happened to me. I also didn't understand the effect it would have as I grew older, and the affect it would have on me in years to come. I was just a child and I could barely understand what he had done. He was someone I trusted and I was sexually abused by him. I am now 26 and it wasn't until I was 22 that I told someone. For 16 years I tried to bury it but by doing this, I was only hurting myself more.
I have always loved sport and played sport from a young age. I started running very soon after the events occurred and looking back now, I know why I loved running so much. Whenever I ran or played sport, I didn't have to think about what had happened to me; running was the only thing that gave me back some solitude, self-belief and self-worth. At the time I didn't know how it was affecting me because I didn't know any different. As a child I had not yet learnt the communication skills, let alone emotional skills, to deal with something like that. I literally just tried to tell myself it didn't happen.
At age 14 I was living in Karratha, WA. I received an athletics scholarship to attend a specialised athletics programme in Perth. My dad knew how much I loved running and how focused I was, he always supported me in everything and anything I wanted to pursue and sure enough, he made it happen. I moved to Perth by myself and lived in a boarding house for kids from the country. The school that offered me the scholarship did not have a boarding facility so I used to catch two buses and a train to school every day.
Boarding school was tough, it was very strict and very isolated. I spent a lot of time by myself. If I wasn’t running to catch a bus or a train, I was training at an oval or at school. I had started to really focus on my sprinting and began to train in hurdles and didn't think about anything else. I had some amazing coaches at the time that I still thank and keep in contact with to this day. I made the Western Australian State Team and also captained the Western Australian State School Girls Knockout Team at age 16. I finished year 12 and received the Inaugural Alison Moore Female Athlete of the Year Award. It was in that moment that I knew making the move and doing everything I did was worth it.
When I was in my last year of school I began to suffer from severe compartment syndrome in my shins and running became almost unbearable. The pain was so bad and I started to develop stress fractures in my left shin. I made the decision to retire from competitive athletics and that is when I found the gym.
I didn't really have many relationships growing up. I had one long-term boyfriend who was older than me and when we broke up, I took it pretty bad. All I felt was rejection and my head kept telling me that I wasn't good enough. What happened to me when I was younger changed my blueprint. It changed the way I thought about myself and it made me very insecure about my body. I searched for validation from other people and especially in that relationship, along with other relationships that followed. I relied on them to make me happy. It was soon after the breakdown of this relationship that I blamed myself and began to really hate my body. I never felt good enough for anyone and that's when the bulimia started.
I remember looking at myself in the bathroom one day and just thinking to myself ‘no wonder nobody wants you, look at you, you’re disgusting’. I still remember the first day I made myself sick, I was 15 years old and it was horrible. I didn't enjoy eating the food I ate, I did it to make myself sick. I would eat until I literally felt so violently ill that I would vomit. It was the act of vomiting that I became addicted to. It's almost embarrassing but it was the only way I knew how to express pain and inflict self-harm that nobody would see. I was able to hide it as I didn't want anyone to see how bad I was suffering. I would also run and exercise excessively every day. I had become that obsessed with my body image and trying to be ‘good enough’.
When I finished year 12, I knew I wanted to do something that involved sport. I went to university in WA and studied Human Movement and Exercise Science. I loved studying and learning about the human body. However, it was during my first year in uni that my world took another blow.
My study load and training load became very demanding and I needed more support around me. My dad bought a unit close to my school and my mum moved down to help me. I had been away from my family for over two years so it made sense for mum to come and help me ... well that was the plan. My mum and I have never really had anything in common when I was growing up and I have never felt close to her. I had built a massive wall between us from such a young age because of what happened. When I was 17, my parents separated and my relationship with my mother had disintegrated over the years. I chose to cut the relationship off with her, since then I have seen her three times and not by choice.
I am originally from Tasmania and when the relationship with my mum broke down, I moved back there and lived with relatives. I pursued my love and passion for training and studied my Certificate 3 and 4 in Fitness and became a personal trainer and group fitness instructor. My bulimia had gotten worse but I hid it very well, no one knew and it had become a habit, it had almost become normal. Every day, if not twice a day.
I began working in a gym and knew that this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I loved training people, teaching and helping people, some may have been just like me and I would have never have known. I knew I had my own demons but when I was at work and focused on other people, it made me forget about my stuff. It's not a cut or a wound that you physically put a bandage over. This is all internal and to the outside world, I was just Dani. Happy, normal Dani. I was always so good at putting on a brave face and turning up to work to take a spin class or train a client, as if I had not a worry in the world. I was genuinely happy to be at work and loved everyone but nobody would have ever guessed how I felt inside.
Eventually everything caught up with me. The endless hours of work and training, the divorce between my parents, the everyday battle to look in the mirror, the unhealthy relationship with food and the secret I carried with me took its toll. I was diagnosed with glandular fever and chronic fatigue and did not get out of bed for nine days. In that time I was also diagnosed with depression and the doctor advised that I start taking medication, but I refused. From that point, everyday was a battle both mentally and physically; I was just so exhausted from everything.
In 2011, at age 21, I moved to the Gold Coast. It was the best decision I ever made for so many reasons. I met Tom and my whole world changed. I believe everybody we meet has a purpose in our lives and Tom definitely had a very significant role to play. He helped me truly fight these demons that I faced every day. He was the first person who I truly trusted, so much so that he was the first person I ever told about what happened to me all those years ago. Tom and I were very close and he was my best friend, we were together for nearly four years and every single one of those days I am grateful for. It was a rollercoaster and he helped me prep through two fitness model competitions. I was physically and mentally at my worst during this time. I was admitted to hospital and spent four days in the acute mental health ward.
I thought about suicide daily and felt like it was the only option I had. I was so lost, I had gained so much weight, I had no idea who I was or even what made me happy … but not once did he leave my side. He saw everything, my absolute lowest point. I remember one day I was lying in bed and had been in bed for days. I was so numb, I told him I just wanted to go, I didn't want to be here anymore and that he deserved someone who wasn't going to put him through this. I remember him trying to put me in the shower but I refused to take my clothes off because I didn't want to look at my body. He said “okay, keep them on but please just have a shower”. I sat in the bottom of the shower fully clothed and just cried. I felt paralysed and had no idea how I was ever going to get out of what felt like a bottomless black hole that I was falling further and further into.
I know Tom came into my life to be the person that would help me get through this once and for all. To help me finally learn to let go of what was controlling me and to learn to love the girl that he and everybody else could see. He made me so strong and he gave me the unconditional support and love I needed to get through it. After numerous breakdowns, days in bed, hundreds of doctor, counsellor and psychiatrist appointments, I began to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I worked so hard on myself every day, physically and mentally. In March 2015, we separated and in my heart I knew he had served his purpose. It was time for me to go out into the world by myself and find myself.
Break-ups are never easy but it's a part of life and I'm not sad it's over. What I gained from that relationship changed my life forever. At the time we broke up, I had gotten so much better with my bulimia and months had passed since the last time I had binged or purged. I was actually happy within myself. I was so focused on changing how I thought about myself and learning to genuinely love who I was. I had come so far and even did numerous photo shoots for MISS Nutrition and also attended a Camera Ready Workshop. Life was great and I felt like I was getting stronger every day. But the battle wasn't over yet, life had one more curve ball to throw me just to make sure I was unbreakable, and that I am.
After the separation of my partner and me, I was lucky enough to still have our beautiful staffy Titan, who became the centre of my universe. Titan and I spent all day together. I trained him every day and we had built this connection that I can’t put into words. He meant everything to me. He was my saving grace. My world was just so perfect because he was in it. He made me feel a type of love that I have never ever felt before.
Three months after Tom and I separated, Titan was hit by a car. He broke his pelvis and had internal bleeding. I did everything I possibly could to save him. I made them do the operation knowing it might not even be successful, I just couldn't bare the loss. I couldn't bear the thought of losing him too. It was 4:15pm on a Tuesday afternoon and I remember sitting on the floor at the emergency vet clinic just holding him. I couldn't stop telling him how much I loved him, and how much he meant to me. At 5:05pm I held him as the vet put the needle in him that would put him to sleep forever. I just didn't understand. I didn't know why the universe was doing this to me. I felt his body go limp in my arms and I just held him and cried. I will never forget that feeling, it was honestly like something died inside me the moment his heart stopped beating.
I remember walking out of the vet and just sitting in my car staring straight ahead. I wasn't crying, I didn't feel anything. I knew that in that moment it was my time to go too. I understand that people talk about suicide and a lot of people may do it as cries for help or even attention but I never thought of it like that. It didn't scare me, it was almost like I knew that one day it was going to happen, I just didn't know when. The only word I can use to describe how I felt was broken. I was completely broken. I had fought and battled my way through every single day to get this far and to have him taken away from me like that was too much to bear on such a fragile shell.
I called my dad and he knew straight away. I was calm, I told him he didn't have to worry about anything, I had planned everything and just needed a hotel room. He listened to everything I said and did as I asked. It's not that he was okay with what I wanted but he knew, he had seen the pain and the suffering I had put myself through for years and I just kept saying to him “I want the pain to stop and this is the only way dad”. I asked him to let me go. He knew how serious I was because I wasn't upset or crying. I had made a decision and that was exactly what I wanted. My dad is the strongest man I know and that just proves it. I had a tunnel vision and it was all I was focused on. I was so focused because it meant that the pain was going to stop. The last thing I said to my dad was “this in the hands of the universe now dad. I love you and I always will”.
Sure enough the universe delivered and it was literally minutes before the time I had set to go through with it that my phone rang. It was someone I couldn't not answer the phone to. At that time the person on the other end of the phone was someone who I had incredible respect for. They were, and still are, one of the strongest and most unique people I have ever met. I can honestly say if I didn't answer that phone call, I would not be writing this. I don't know why at that exact point in time they chose to ring but they did and I remember getting off the phone and just breaking down. I knew that somehow I had to find the strength inside of me to pick myself up one more time. It wasn't my time yet. I remember calling my dad and just crying on the phone saying “one more time dad, one more time”. All I remember him saying was “we are going to get through this, I promise”. I told him I would fight this until my knuckles bled.
Sitting here writing this, I feel like I am talking about a different girl. I can honestly say that in the last 12 months I have worked so hard on myself, not just physically but mentally. I wanted more than anything in this world to be able to confidently tell myself that I do love myself. I can't explain what it feels like to go from feeling so physically numb and sick inside, and thinking that I didn't deserve to be alive anymore, to knowing that I can and will survive anything. I can finally say that my happiness and self-worth isn't dependant on my physical appearance anymore. I still train six days a week and love the gym more than ever. And although I still have parts of my body I want to work on, that doesn't dictate who I am. My heart and soul dictates who I am and after everything I have been through, I want nothing more than to just help and reach out to girls who are struggling with the same issues. Depression, anxiety and eating disorders are so hard to talk about and it's so hard for people who do not suffer to understand these illnesses.
Since that night in the hotel room, I have dedicated my life to supporting and empowering other woman in any way I can. I don't take anything for granted at all anymore and I genuinely love every day. I feel like I have gained a whole new confidence and outlook on life. I have been a guest speaker at a fundraiser for women creating awareness for mental health, I have launched my brand Motivate.Train.Inspire, I am a sponsored athlete for both Green Tea X50 and Miss Nutrition and I have stopped binging and purging.
I try every day to help and motivate women, whether that be through my work as a personal trainer, through social media or even in person with girls I get to meet daily through working at Mass Nutrition. I am just a girl who, like hundreds of other girls out there, has been dealt a few bad hands. I promise you though, no matter what you are going through, you can do this. You can get through this storm. The reality is you have to fight, you have to fight so hard knowing deep down the bad days will get better, the darkness you see does turn to light and the empty feeling inside of you does fade away. I am only saying this because I know. I thought it was never going to get better, and I was convinced I was too broken to be fixed. If there is one thing I say to myself everyday it's this: you will survive this because the fire inside you will always burn brighter than the fire that surrounds you. And I truly believe that.
I am now in the next chapter of my life. I have started writing a book based on everything I have endured in my 26 years and how that has shaped me and moulded me into the person I am today. I have received a job with Etihad Airways as a personal trainer in one of their 5-star resorts in Abu Dhabi. Believe me when I tell you, anything in this world is possible, you just have to believe you can do it. Believe in yourself and everything you stand for and the universe will take care of the rest.