Maddie Hingston wasn’t prepared for a life without rowing.
The Brock University rower completed her seven-year-long rowing career as Badger when she competed at the Canadian University Rowing Championships this past November.
“When my season ended, I was looking forward to a life where my alarm wasn’t going off at 5 a.m.,” said Hingston, a fourth-year Kinesiology student from St. Catharines. “I could do the workouts I liked and had more free time than I could imagine.”
This is where Hingston encountered a hurdle.
“I had never exercised without my body image, or weight, being the main reason for exercising,” she said. “Workouts felt like a waste to me, and exercise wasn’t enjoyable. Every time I looked in a mirror, I saw myself as a couch potato who was losing muscle tone and gaining weight. As a result, I didn’t think I was deserving of food because I wasn’t burning off every calorie.”
As Bell Let’s Talk Day arrives on Wednesday, Jan. 26, Hingston is sharing her story to help others experiencing body image issues.
“Although I talk about these struggles in the past tense, I’m still working on these mental health issues,” she said.
As co-president of Brock’s Student-Athlete Leadership Council (SALC), Hingston helped design a series of internal mental health and wellness events for varsity student-athletes during Bell Let’s Talk week.
Alongside Alex Roger, Brock Sports’ Game Day and Events Assistant Co-ordinator, the SALC developed a five-day series that includes everything from virtual yoga, online drop-in peer hubs and webinars presented by the University’s Student Wellness and Accessibility Centre (SWAC).
“Online resources are great first touch points because it’s natural to be nervous about seeking help from a counsellor in person or admitting with people in your life that things aren’t going well,” Hingston said. “Brock has an abundance of formats that allow you to connect with someone to discuss what you may be going through.”
Hingston said the turning point was when she started opening up about her experiences.
“It didn’t feel like I had this burden to carry around with me everywhere I went anymore,” she said. “I am not fully satisfied with my mental health, but I know I’m on the right path to get there.”
Growing up in St. Catharines, Hingston had dreams of becoming a professional ballerina. She worked hard at her craft and was accepted into attending Canada’s National Ballet School in Toronto.
However, by the age of 15, she became burnt out and moved back home.
“I still wanted to participate in a sport, and rowing was more prevalent in my life than I had realized,” said Hingston, whose family had a history of rowing. “That summer, I signed up for the Brock learn-to-row camp, and I instantly fell in love with the sport. It had the same discipline that ballet had, and it felt natural to me. I also loved how it was something completely new. For the first time in my life, I was empowered to be muscular and powerful.”
More recently, Hingston found solace when she reached out to a former teammate and began using online resources as a stepping stone for her mental well-being.
“My entire life, I have engaged in activities that emphasize or place value on your body image and weight. In one way, I wish I could do it all over again and never put on a ballet slipper or not race lightweight rowing,” Hingston said. “But the grass is always greener on the other side. Both ballet and rowing gave me experiences and friends that I wouldn’t be the same without. I’ve learned to become resilient and hope that sharing my story will encourage others never to forget ‘you are worthy of help.'”