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Fun beats fatigue for Sasha


gippsport - October 15, 2020 - 0 comments

Chronic fatigue syndrome sapped Boolarra’s Sasha Chalmers of energy, affected her goal shooting skills and even impaired her eyesight.

But it didn’t diminish her love of netball, even for a second.

Sasha’s health troubles began early last year when a nasty virus – potentially glandular fever, but not confirmed – landed her in the Royal Children’s Hospital, unable to walk and suffering severe joint pain.

It was a short stay and Sasha recovered and was back on the netball court in time for her team’s first game of the year, but that was far from the end of the saga.

“Chronic fatigue is not just being tired all the time, it’s a lot more than that.”

Periodic bouts of illness resulted in setbacks and reduced her ability to train and play at full capacity for much of the season. Eventually, she was diagnosed with myalgic encephalomyelitis, more commonly known as chronic fatigue syndrome.

“I’ve always liked sleep but I was having to sleep like 16 hours a day,” Sasha said.

“When I was sick I lost my appetite and I felt really nauseous and I did lose a lot of weight and lost a lot of muscle so I felt really weak, exhausted and my eyesight has deteriorated because of it.

“My optometrist said she could see my eyes trying to focus but they were too weak to properly focus. My eyesight wasn’t so great to begin with but it’s actually impacted it quite a lot.”

The 17-year-old is no stranger to having her mettle tested when it comes to playing sport, having suffered and overcome ankle injuries in previous seasons, while she also relishes other challenges, such as taking on taller opponents and playing in less familiar positions.

Her swift return to the soccer pitch ended after a couple of games, but the idea of pulling the pin on netball, a sport she has played since she was five years old, was unthinkable.

Nor was it in her best interests to sit out altogether.

Playing on: Chronic fatigue syndrome hasn’t stopped Boolarra netballer Sasha Chalmers getting on the court.

“I love netball too much and I needed to stay active,” Sasha said.

“One thing a lot of people don’t understand with chronic fatigue is you need to stay active, because if you’re not active you’ll get worse. The more you sit around the more you will have to sit around.”

While the shorter and sharper movements of netball proved more manageable for her body than the wider expanses and prolonged sprinting associated with soccer, Sasha still faced a battle to regain the form and fitness she had previously enjoyed.

“I did find it really hard. After my first few games I was exhausted and like completely out of it,” Sasha said.

“One thing I found really difficult is I’ve always been a long distance shooter… but because I had lost so much muscle mass I couldn’t shoot from that far so I did struggle to regain my accuracy.

“The other goaler was really good as well… she did take a lot of the shots, I was just kind of the one that was there to get it in the ring and stuff like that.”

An estimated one in 100 Australians suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome, but despite it being a fairly common affliction, the level of knowledge and support that exists in community sport can be limited.

Sasha’s coach, Hope, played an important role in enabling her perseverance by consciously adjusting the intensity of her training and encouraging her to play even if it was for only half a game.

The support went both ways, with Sasha rugged up and cheering on from the sidelines whenever she wasn’t up for taking the court – something that would come as little surprise to those who know her.

Despite her youth, Sasha is part of the furniture at Boolarra Football Netball Club and embraces her role as a leader.

She plays, umpires and helps out on the club’s committee as she felt it was important to have a young person’s voice representing the interests of junior members.

The latter is a responsibility she takes seriously, whether it be advocating for rules nights for new and inexperienced players to better understand the game, or for senior players to mentor juniors to help ease the transition to open age competition – initiatives she hopes will be in place next season.

“One thing a lot of people don’t understand with chronic fatigue is you need to stay active, because if you’re not active you’ll get worse.”

Reflecting on her experience with chronic fatigue, Sasha said she felt fortunate to have had such strong ties to her club, but freely acknowledged that others may not be so lucky. She believes increased awareness could lead to better support for those suffering and ensure they are less likely to be lost to sport.

“I feel like I have a bit of an advantage over some people that haven’t been at the club as long as I have and the fact my mum is the president but I just feel like I know everyone and they are super welcoming and it’s easy to be a part of the club,” she said.

“Some of my friends were on my team so they were supportive but others who didn’t really know me and what I had been through didn’t really get it.

“When you have chronic fatigue and you have all those moments when you feel really crappy it’s kind of like putting you down… and then on top of it when you don’t have the support and people don’t understand what you’re going through it is really tough.

“Chronic fatigue is not just being tired all the time, it’s a lot more than that.”

While she admits she could do better when it comes to practicing ‘sleep hygiene’, her commitment to a healthy diet and exercise have served her well and hold her in good stead for recovery.

“I have good moments and then I have downhill moments but my problem is I get really excited when I’m having a good time and overexert myself and I fall back into a down moment,” she said.

Sasha recently commenced a personal training course and is keen to share her knowledge of ‘how to feel good’ with others.

COVID-19 may have cruelly robbed her of a final year of junior netball, but she is looking forward to stepping up to senior netball at Boolarra next year.

The Latrobe Health Assembly’s Increasing Access to Sport Project aims to identify and address barriers to youth sports participation in the Latrobe Valley. For more information, email GippSport Community Planning Officer Damen Francis at damen@gippsport.com.au

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