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Dublin: 7 °C Monday 25 March, 2019
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'My love for fighting came from battling anorexia and battling my own mind'

Mary-Kate Slattery shares her inspiring story.

MARY-KATE SLATTERY WAS diagnosed with anorexia at the age of nine.

At 10, she almost had a heart attack as she struggled with the eating disorder, the mental health and psychological issues that went hand in hand with it.

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Happiest in the 💍#PearlyWhites

A post shared by Mary-Kate Slattery (@mkslattery) on

Now 22, and an accomplished amateur boxer with strong aspirations of turning professional in the near future, Slattery’s biggest battles to date have most definitely come outside of the ring.

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The Dubliner’s bubbly personality and positive outlook on life are evident from the beginning of our conversation. She’s in a really good place now.

Her hectic schedule and how she manages it all naturally the first topic up for discussion, the first port of call if you like. She’s studying Law in Trinity College and that alone is enough in itself, minus the remarkable commitment, discipline and training load that goes into her boxing journey.

Oh, she’s actually writing a book too. Sharing her story. The recovery mainly; the lows, the highs, the dark times, the brighter, the crazy adventure that is life in general.

“I’d be lying if I said I had it under control all the time,” she smiles. “Some days I really don’t know what I’m doing. You just kind of plough through and make it work. Just as long as you’re being as productive as you can.”

Slattery does make it work some how, some way, between studying and training, lectures and fights, reading and writing, meditating and winding down. She loves what she does and she’s learning every single day, which is important to her.

She knows her limits to and has learned from past experiences. Last year, the boxing got a little too intense and with no sign of it easing up any time soon, the third year of her degree is being spread across two. After this semester, she has another year to go.

While she felt a calling before submitting her CAO to change from Art History, that, along with her love of English, articulating arguments and “convincing people that night is day and day is night” sent her down the Law route, she doesn’t feel that she’ll pursue it in practice.

Priscilla Stocker and Stephen Cunningham with Mary-Kate Slattery At the Irish Life Health Schools Fitness Challenge 2018 Results. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The St Michael’s BC, Inchicore star enjoys it but doesn’t sense that same calling now. Perhaps those aspirations to go pro sway that overview ever so slightly.

“Over the next coming weeks I’d like to really just knuckle down and get the ball rolling,” she enthuses. “It kind of has started already but just pushing a little bit more energy into it and set intentions for what I really want to do and be very intentional with it.

“I don’t want to end up in a place that’s not serving me. Pro boxing can be tricky so I’m just being very careful about the moves that I make but absolutely enjoying every step that I do.”

Her past struggles and all else aside, it’s also pretty remarkable how fast Slattery has made waves in the sport considering the fact that she started boxing just two years ago.

The story of how it all came about is pretty interesting. She first discovered her love for fighting after organising a white collar boxing match for Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital in Crumlin a little over 24 months ago and hasn’t looked back since.

At the Irish Life Health Schools’ Fitness Challenge awards ceremony in Croke Park, her mind wanders back to when she was at the age of the second and third year students around her.

“It’s funny, I hadn’t a clue what I wanted to do back then,” she giggles. “I wasn’t particularly sporty, I loved athletics because I loved training by myself.

“I never really got on too well with hockey or any team sports just because I didn’t feel like I could push people the same way I pushed myself without coming across as a massive bitch! I really wanted to be careful with that.

“Once I found combat sports then I was able to just channel all my energy into doing something 100%. I’ve always been very black and white in the way that I think and the way that I approach things in life.

“Being an obsessive compulsive and boxing, really, it works and they go hand in hand very well.”

The charity fight two years ago brings back fond memories. The idea of it was to get people who had never boxed before to get in the ring, Slattery duly obliged and jumped in, doing her bit to raise a welcome €12,000.

“We sold a lot of tickets because I’d never really thrown a punch in my life and I’m a very peaceful person. It was almost like, ‘Oh my God, Mary-Kate’s getting in the ring. Lads, we have to get down to watch this, it’s going to be hilarious.’

“Then on the night of it, it ended up being a good scrap and I really loved it.”

It was all go from there. The snowball started rolling and it hasn’t stopped since as her star continues to rise and rise. A friend, Tony Browne — an exciting amateur boxer himself and Olympic hopeful — introduced her to his coach, Steven O’Rourke shortly afer.

“He hadn’t trained a woman before and he made that very clear: ‘I’ll train with you for a few weeks but we’ll see where you go.’

“I really felt a calling to step up here and it was more the feminist in me that was going, ‘I’m going to absolutely smash this.’”

The weeks turned to months, the months to years, and the pair haven’t looked in the rear-view mirror since.

“Three months on, we won our first Irish title together. It was absolutely mental, I didn’t know what was going on. It just felt so right.

“For me anyway – and I probably sound mad saying this – there’s something so spiritual about boxing and about combat sports. When you’re pushed up in a corner, you really learn a lot about yourself and every millisecond is important for survival.

“You test yourself, push your boundaries every time which I absolutely love in terms of personal development and growth. It’s like meditation for me.”

That correlation was evident straight away: Slattery improved physically, her mood lifted, grades sky rocketed; the benefits were endless. She counts herself really lucky, particularly considering the dark times through her childhood.

She first opened up publicly about her battle with anorexia in a brilliantly-made video with FlyeFit in November 2017.

No idea what it was, Slattery just knew that there was a voice in her head telling her not to eat. She listened to the voice, followed the orders and herself and the voice went on this mission to lose weight and ultimately scare and frighten people through her appearance.

When those tough times are brought up and she’s complimented on her recovery, Slattery’s sense of gratitude shines through. She’s fighting different battles now but she’ll never forget those ones. 

Source: FLYEfit/YouTube

“I definitely feel that being able to channel energy again into a sport is so beneficial for your mental health,” she smiles.

“My love for fighting came from battling anorexia and battling my own mind. Just being able to combat something as big as that gives you the confidence to jump in the ring with whoever — not really, but within reason. think you feel that nobody can battle anything as big as their own mind.”

With her memory jogged of that time in her life, she delves a little deeper.

At the age of 10, she was flown to London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital as she couldn’t get the care she needed on these shores.

Her heart-rate worried the nurses in Crumlin so much that they thought she was going to pass away at one point overnight, so her parents brought her to specialists across the water for the psychological help she required.

“It’s scary how things can really just unravel so much,” she continues. “My poor parents and my family, it really dominated their lives for the four years.

“It is mad. I’ve got cousins that are 10, 11 and I don’t know how I was in that position when I look at them. It seems so young. I remember it so vividly.

“When I think back, I think ‘Wow, I’m so happy and grateful to have gotten that help, first of all, that I needed’, but also I’m very proud of how far I’ve come. Without ego, it’s nice to actually look at that and feel assurance for the rest of your life that whatever happens, we’ll go with the flow.”

She first detailed the near-heart attack on The Ryan Tubridy Show on RTÉ Radio 1 in November, and off the back of that, was offered an opportunity to pen her story in her own words.

“I’m really excited about it,” she smiles, “ just talking about the recovery. It’s very important to me. Being able to just share that and hopefully de-stigmatise.

mk 'Being able to accept that the darkness was there rather than trying to fight it is massive.' Source: Mary Kate Slattery Instagram.

“Maybe somebody reading it will resonate with the story and want to push past the dark patch and make a difference. That’s the aim.

“It’s something that I’ve always wanted to do, I just didn’t really believe in myself as a writer. I’m just doing my best. It’s a difficult disease to combat and I’m certainly not an expert in it. But I’m an expert in my own journey so sharing it is great.”

Not only is she helping others, the benefits are two-fold. It’s therapeutic in a sense.

“It’s massively healing. Being able to tap into that part of me and accept that the darkness was there rather than trying to fight it is massive and really beneficial for me.

“For others, more importantly, that are able to just connect with the story. If I had met somebody when I was in the dark times, it might have made a difference. It might not have but there’s a good chance it would have.”

It seems that she’s in a really good place now in every aspect of life. Well, it can be framed that way, she assures. She’s taught herself to see the positives in every situation and how to navigate slightly stormier times.

She knows exactly how to lift her mood and is a big believer in things like gratitude notes and meditation — when she’s not training twice a day between technique and sparring, that is.

An hour a day is allocated to meditation, while she’s big into healthy eating but doesn’t buy into diets considering her past history.

“Grounding down is hugely important,” Slattery explains, and then she’s questioned more on the meditation. She’s big into spreading the word, and speaks to a lot of younger people about it.

“I started with just a mindfulness app, I just downloaded it. When I was in fifth and sixth year, I suffered again with depressive episodes around the stress of the Leaving Cert so for me, it was real medicine just being able to ground down for five minutes.

“Body scan and really just focus on breathing. It’s developed…. I’ve just came back from 10 days of the Vipassana which is a silent meditation retreat I did in Morocco. 

Danny Cronin, Mary-Kate Slattery, Thomas Barr and Priscilla Stocker At the Irish Life Health Schools Fitness Challenge 2018 Results. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“That, for me, teaches you to observe sensations without attachment. If we’re detached in the way that we think, if we don’t crave things and we don’t have aversion to things, then we have no suffering. Just really surrendering to the flow of life, and accepting that we kind of know nothing, we own nothing.

“Just to listen to our true selves, our higher selves. My love for boxing is that it’s also a very spiritual sport, you know. For me, it’s my meditation.”

With women in sport in a great place at the minute, that pleases Slattery and it’s something she’s extremely proud to be a part of.

Success on the world stage against the best of the best, more and more interest at grassroots, campaigns like 20×20 and momentum behind our sportswomen of all ages and abilities; it’s all happening. 

“We’ve got some incredible role models. We should be very proud, as a nation. The women that we’re producing in sport is just world class, truly.

!If we look at Kellie Harrington and Katie Taylor, and that’s only boxing alone, they’re absolute legends in what they’re doing for women and for sport, it’s incredible. It’s looking very bright in the future.”

As she knows herself, age doesn’t matter. Whether you’re a child, a teenager or a little bit older, just get into it.

Gender also doesn’t matter. Stereotypes are being broken down, people are aware that that subliminal bias is there and that will only bring bigger and better. More barriers broken down.

Katie Taylor with her WBA and IBF belts KT: Taylor is a role model. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

“Since I’ve joined boxing, it’s a question that I’m often asked, ‘How am I treated, as a woman.’ I think the beauty of combat sports is you’re sparring with lads, training with lads, it doesn’t matter.

“You’re not a boy, you’re not a girl, you’re a boxer. I think that that is so powerful in itself rather than overthinking it and assuming roles.

“I think the beauty of it really is accepting yourself as a fighter, no gender needed or necessary. It’s powerful, I’m very grateful to have found it.”

She’s grateful to be where she is today. To just be here today, and to be doing what she’s doing. 

She’s gotten through quite a lot in the past.

She can get through anything. 

“That’s a powerful message that I think everyone should live by,” she concludes with a smile.

“Spreading that I think is the goal for the foreseeable future. As much as I can in whatever way I can.”

Irish Life Health ambassador Mary Kate Slattery was at the Irish Life Health Schools’ Fitness Challenge Awards ceremony in Croke Park on Monday.

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Emma Duffy

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