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Kate Daley: My (Un)conventional Comeback Story

TW: eating disorder


I don’t have a conventional comeback story. 


I decided to recover from anorexia nervosa to save my running career but once I began treatment, I never competed again. I used to think my story didn't matter unless I proved to the world that I could return to my sport healthy and better than ever, but despite how hard I tried, that’s not how my story was written.


I can’t say my 19-year-old self would have committed to recovery had she known she would never toe the line in a UConn singlet again. But she didn’t know that, and holding onto the glimmers of hope that she would compete again was enough to commit to the grueling treatment process.


As a child, I struggled with anxiety and OCD. I grew up in an athletic and competitive household. Combined with my sensitive, perfectionistic, and goal-oriented personality, I was a particularly successful athlete…but it came at a cost.


While I remember my eating disorder showing up before I became a competitive long-distance runner, it was amplified by the bodies I observed around me. The ones that lined up next to me, stood on the podium beside me, and with those I had both friendships and rivalries. My eyes saw thin bodies, thinner than mine. And so, in an effort to be the best I could be, I worked as hard as I could to be the smallest I could be. I deeply believed that would equate to being the fastest I could be. Instead, it left me chronically injured, depressed, and anxious that my mind and body would never recover.


As a collegiate distance runner, I had 12 seasons of eligibility. I used four and then was faced with medical retirement after being diagnosed with three high-risk bone stress injuries at once.


I often wonder if I had addressed my eating disorder sooner, would I have had a full NCAA career? Would I have had a fairytale ending? I think everyone expects a comeback, especially from a dedicated athlete. Did I expect anything less of myself? I think you know the answer by now. I was dealt a different hand and I’ve (on most days — because I’m human) come to accept that.


My story doesn’t look like Paige Bueckers’ or Lindsey Vonn’s. I never represented my university or team again. Instead, it looks like Kate Daley’s. It looks like using my story to find purpose in my career and rekindling joy in the sport that makes me feel most alive. It looks like my ability to return to my authentic self, align with my values, and feel at home within myself —things I lost to anorexia and never would have gotten back without recovery. I will never get my eligibility back but I think I got something better: a second chance at life.


Maybe that’s my comeback story.



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