Jess Troy has represented Jersey at the Island Games during her running career winning team gold in the half marathon and an individual bronze in Gibraltar.
However, despite those achievements, it hasn’t been plain sailing for Troy and she has decided to speak out against her battles with anorexia to Sportscast Jersey in the bid to help others from going down the same path, and to prevent them having the dark days that Troy experienced.
Jess, who went to Beaulieu, has always been into sport, stating ‘I danced for around twelve years, played hockey for a lot of my life as well and only moved into running when I was in my early teens. I come from an active family with my mum being a fitness instructor, with both my parents being runners too so I have always been brought up with an active lifestyle.’
Running didn’t start until a bit later, in her early teens as stated above. ‘My teachers at school always told me join Spartans, but I was doing a lot of dance and was heavily involved in Scouts at the time so I couldn’t commit to it. My best friend was always part of Spartans, and her dad who is my Godfather was one of the coaches there so I eventually realised it was something I wanted to do and I fell in love with it.’
‘The people I met at thirteen are still my friends today. It is a great community for both juniors and adults. Through it I have become a coach which is great as I can see the younger kids enjoying and embracing it in the same way as I did when I was their age.’
Jess started off running 800m and 1500m when she first joined Spartans, however ‘as I got a bit older and moved into u17s my coach Chris Dorey, who is still my coach to this day, saw potential in me where he thought I could be better over longer distances. Every year we went to the Hampshire Track and Field Championships, and he said why don’t you try the 3000m and I did it, and did really well. That was the point where I thought longer might be better for me so I started looking at 5ks and then as I got a bit older I moved into 10ks. When I was 19 I ran my first half marathon. I did it to show myself that I could finish it. I didn’t go out to win the race and get a qualifying time for the Gibraltar Island Games, which is what happened!’
At 16 Jess competed in her very first Island Games, right here in Jersey. ‘I ran the 1500m in the 2015 Jersey Island Games. I have to admit, it was a very short Island Games for myself. The opening ceremony was on the Saturday and then I was knocked out of the the heats on the Sunday night, so it was very short lived. It was an amazing experience and I still did some work experience with one of the guys who was filming the games so it was brilliant. At that age I remember being very upset about how the race went as it was something I really wanted to do well in but it wasn’t the end of the world. It was a great atmosphere, the whole games was awesome and I can’t believe it was five years ago now!’
Jess missed out on Gotland 2017, but bounced back in Gibraltar two years later. ‘We got team gold in the half marathon and then I got individual bronze. That was pretty insane. That is probably still one of the best weeks I have ever had. To be able to go somewhere I haven’t gone before and obviously to smash it like we did – it was a really fun time.’
In terms of future Island Games Jess told me ‘Guernsey was the next aim but sadly that isn’t happening anymore as it is postponed due to Covid-19. At the moment my coach and I are looking for me to compete at the British Road Relay Championship series as an alternative. The Island Games is great but my coach says I could compete at a higher level, so we shall see what happens. At the moment I have been injured for a long time and I am not racing. I am just enjoying running for what it is for the first time in years, which is nice.’
As mentioned before, Jess now coaches the next generation of talent at Spartans. ‘It is awesome. The kids are absolutely brilliant. You realise they have so much energy and running is a great way to use that energy in a positive way. It is lovely to see that they are all so friendly and sociable, especially with Covid-19, it is a way they can meet up outside, engage in an activity and enjoy themselves. I remember when I was their age and the guys I trained with then, are still my best friends now. It is a lovely community and if you have a common interest it is a great starting point for any friendship so it is great to get the next generation involved.’
Jess works as a Film Production Specialist for 3C International. ‘I originally worked with my now bosses when I did my Project Trident seven years ago. I always knew it was something that I wanted to go onto so I carried on with the work experience through my school holidays, went to university and studied TV and Film Production at the University of York and then graduated. Within a month of graduating I started full time work with 3CI.
‘It has been pretty amazing. We film a lot of corporate things here in Jersey but we also have a branch of the company called 3CI Sport so we film a lot for Jersey Reds and Jersey Bulls, and also travel the world filming international cricket for the ICC. Obviously not at the moment because of Covid-19, but just before lockdown happened I spent the first month of 2020 out in South Africa filming the U19s Cricket World Cup which was absolutely incredible. Just to see the next generation of cricket players. I was training a bit out there as well and I remember sharing an ice bath with a 17 year old who is labelled India’s next best cricketer. It was awesome to be surrounded by the next generation coming through the ranks. It has helped me learn the rules of cricket, and to love the sport too.’
Mental health has been positively and negatively linked to sport over the past few years. Jess opened up about her experiences by stating ‘I definitely feel sport is incredible for people’s mental health. During lockdown being active and being outdoors is something that has been key to so many people’s lives. However there is a balance that you need to find between having passion for sport and then it becoming an unhealthy obsession. Unfortunately, that is something that I have experienced the latter of.’
‘It was just after the Jersey Island Games in 2015 where I overheard a women on a race start line saying to be faster you have to be lighter. It was something that I heard completely out of context and as a young 17 year old, I shouldn’t have taken any notice of. At the time, I didn’t think I did but sadly subconsciously it did stick in my head. It became a drive and a mantra throughout the next five years of my life. It has not been great. I went to university and was very unwell. I started hyperventilating when I was training and was constantly tired. I ended up being hospitalised with severe anemia and near organ failure. Eventually, in 2017 I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa at which point I had already lost a lot of weight and I was not in a good way mentally or physically. I had a lot of people very worried about me. I was referred to the eating disorder therapy unit with adult mental health services in Jersey and my therapist, along with my parents and my coach Chris have all been extremely supportive, and incredible throughout.’
‘Unfortunately being so underweight brought about its own physical issues: bone density scans in 2018 showed I had given myself osteopenia (the early stages of osteoporosis) in my lower back; I stopped having proper periods for at least 4 years; and I am likely to take medication for the rest of my life to prevent the iron deficiency. But getting help and restoring my happiness and health has changed all of this. Unlike osteoporosis, osteopenia is reversible; and even just in recent weeks my body has shown it can restore itself and I hopefully I can still eventually have children in the future.’
Lockdown didn’t help Jess’ recovery. ‘I had managed to weight restore at the beginning of 2020 but then lockdown happened and I relapsed. I went to a very dark place mentally. Fortunately, I am currently the strongest and happiest I have been in the past five years now and it is great. It is why I want to talk about it now as I am comfortable talking about it because I have seen that it has not only affected me, but also people around me and I know countless other people in athletics, both men and women, who have suffered with anorexia and it something that is related a lot to endurance running. It is another reason I coach. I don’t want anyone else to get affected by something that has taken away so many lives. Eating disorders has got some of the highest mortality rates of any mental illness. Nobody’s mental health should be taken for granted and we need to be there for each other.’
Jess spoke about the support she received from those around her as being such an important stage of her recovery. ‘I would like to say if anyone sees any of their friends or family members and think that their behaviour is changing around food and exercise definitely talk to them openly about it. They may be reluctant or defensive but you are definitely going with your best intentions. I only got the support I needed when people spoke to me about it and said they saw serious change. I would probably still be in the mess I was in back then if somebody hadn’t intervened. The Adult Mental Health System has been brilliant for me. My therapist is an incredible women. My coaches have also been amazing supports to me throughout the last few years, working alongside the eating disorder unit to help me get back on track and weight restore whilst still training. I’m so thankful for Chris Dorey from Spartans AC, and Pete Irving and all the team from the Jersey Sport Foundation. Chris has seen me through it all really; from starting to coach me aged 15, to watching me physically and emotionally break myself, to seeing me through to winning medals and rediscovering my self worth. JSF have also been amazing during my relapse in lockdown where they gave me additional psychological and nutritional support too. Having people supporting you, friends, family and coaches is key. The help is always out there if you need it.’
As she mentioned before, the present Jess is the best version of herself she has seen in five years. ‘I have had a few people say to me in recent weeks that the ‘old Jess’ is back which is lovely as I know when my anorexia was at its worst I lost a lot of friends, some to this day I still haven’t got back and I do get upset about that. It made me a skeleton of a person. The anemia also caused me to have psychosis so I don’t remember that eight months of my life. But now, I am in a really great position and it is lovely because it means I am very happy.
Her message to others who may find themselves going through the same journey as she did is ‘Whoever you are, whatever your life choices are don’t compare your life choices. Whether it be exercise, food intake or nutrition. You don’t need to compare it to anybody else. Look at your own life and know you need to respect and honour your body. If you feel something isn’t right then talk to people about it. Be as open as you can because even though it is scary, the best way to let dark thoughts out is to talk about them. One of my favourite terms to say now is ‘its okay not to be okay’ and that is something we really need to normalise in anyone’s mental health. The more we normalise it and make people realise we should be happy in our own skin the better. Take life as it comes and enjoy it – not every choice you make today will matter in three weeks!’
In terms of whats next for Jess, both within work and sport, she stated ‘In work I would appreciate if I would be able to start travelling again whilst filming sport because it was a huge part of my career and it was an incredible experience. I love my job, and I am very happy we are busy again, but I would really appreciate going travelling again. With sport I would love to sort out my injuries! I would love to race again and feel fast + strong again. I have stopped setting myself high expectations and I am enjoying it for what it is.’
Jess simply finished ‘In the past five years I have always had the label of ‘Jess the runner’ or ‘Jess the anorexic’ so it is nice to feel in recent months, to the people I have met, I have just been ‘Jess’ and that has been lovely.’
A massive thanks to Jess for speaking to us so openly about her story, and we hope by sharing her story we can help raise awareness of the link between anorexia, and other eating disorders, as well as mental health, in sport.