Don't stop doing sports because of your period, athletes urge teens

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You’re powerful and can do any thing at any time. That’s the message we try to give our children at every opportunity. You’ve got this. Nothing can slow you down.

The fact is, for the 51 per cent of the Canadian population who menstruate or have menstruated, there is that one thing that can slow them down. Because often when you have your period, especially that first day or so, you’re not feeling your best. There’s a hormone shift that can affect mood and attention and bodily changes that include cramping, bloating and sometimes just a general blah. You might not feel like eating. Or all you want to do is eat.

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And sometimes — often — phys ed class or sports practice happens during that three to seven days a month. Studies show a significant drop off in sports participation among girls once they hit 13. There can be many explanations during this tumultuous time in their lives, but it would be naive to discount the effect of menstruation.

A recent report by Women and Gender Equality Canada notes that while the impact of a period varies, a majority of menstruators “often or sometimes experience pain, worry about leakage and try to be discreet with menstrual products.” Nearly 60 per cent said they’re worried about leakage, and more than 30 per cent told researchers they are concerns they’ll miss sports because of their period.

It’s hard enough to win at dodgeball without worrying it’s going to hit your sore abdomen, and on top of that, agonizing that you’re going to leak and have to wear a sweater tied around your waist for the rest of the day.

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Nearly 80 per cent of respondents to the Environics survey said this statement is false: “Period pain is not debilitating and cannot interfere with daily life.” The report is based on an online survey conducted March 6-19 of 2,083 Canadians 13 and older.

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“The data clearly reveals there are still widely held misconceptions about menstruation, as well as negative attitudes held by a minority of the population,” the report says, noting this inaccuracy: “Almost half of Canadians agree that periods make people physically weaker (45 per cent).”

Canadian beach volleyball Olympian Brandie Wilkerson is among a handful of athletes who have teamed up with underwear brand Knix on the empowerment campaign #SportYourPeriod. Wilkerson is the first (and only) Black woman to represent Canada in beach volleyball and instituted the Project Worthy scholarship to raise the number of Black, Indigenous and other people of colour in the sport.

Instagram post shows a woman by a volleyball net. She has a large red circle on her arm.
“By sporting the period, I am telling the whole world that the fear of leaking will never stop me from practicing the sport I love,” Canadian Olympian Brandie Wilkerson says. Photo by @beachvolleyballworld /Instagram

“No one should stop doing the sports they love because they are afraid their period might be seen,” Wilkerson said in a statement. “There simply aren’t enough conversations about the realities of having a period and how it can affect your body and mental state, but I am glad the shame around it didn’t get in the way of my greatest passion.”

Wilkerson — who recently wore a big red circle on her arm during the Volleyball World Beach Pro Tour finals — says being active helped ease her menstrual pain. Other athletes involved in the campaign include triathlete Emma Pallant-Browne, rugby player Ilona Maher, Olympic softball player Larissa Franklin and weightlifter Jourdan Delacruz.

The Environics report revealed that female family members are almost always the ones to disseminate information about periods, especially to girls. Nearly half of Canadians said they discuss menstruation with someone else less than once a year.

“It would be interesting to see if the frequency of such discussions changes over time,” the researchers said.

On wearing a red period, Wilkerson said in a recent Instagram post: “I am telling the whole world that the fear of leaking will never stop me from practicing the sport I love.”

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