National AFL Women’s League footballer Katie Brennan has revealed she struggled with bulimia before becoming one of the country’s top female sports stars.
For Brennan, now 23 and playing for the Western Bulldogs, football was an oasis from a troubled adolescence.
“It was always my constant and always where I could escape,” Brennan told Australian Story.
Growing up on the outskirts of Brisbane, Brennan had a difficult home life, always worrying she would return from school to find her mother’s latest suicide attempt had been successful.
Brennan wrongly blamed herself for her mother’s mental illness and for her parents’ eventual divorce. By the time she was 14, her inability to cope escalated to bulimia and an obsession with exercise.
“It was the only thing that made me feel better and made me feel like I was in control,” she said.
“I had a really nasty relationship with my body.”
Football provided an escape from all these troubles.
“You get this feeling of flow out on the ground where nothing else really matters,” Brennan said.
“Sometimes it’s kind of like you’re floating out there. That’s why I’ve always dedicated my life to football.”
Brennan’s devotion to football began at six, watching her brother play in the Logan Cobras Under 8s Auskick team, which their father coached.
Kicking a football to herself from the sidelines, Brennan dreamed of joining the boys on the field.
Brennan’s dreams were answered when the team was down a player one week and, after kicking seven goals in her first game, she was allowed to stay on the team.
Despite being embraced by her male teammates and winning best and fairest, Brennan was not allowed to compete with boys beyond the Under 14s.
“No matter how good you were, you had to stop,” she said.
Though no longer allowed to play with boys, Brennan was not about to abandon her dream. After joining the Youth Girls team for one year, she quickly advanced to the open-age Women’s League.
Brennan’s career took off following a spontaneous decision to move to Melbourne four years ago to focus on football. She joined the Victorian Football League’s Darebin Falcons, currently placed first on the ladder, becoming their star forward.
‘Katie Brennan is a leader’
When Melbourne Football Club and the Western Bulldogs took women’s footy to a higher level in 2013 with a series of exhibition matches, Brennan was drafted by the Doggies.
She will play with them in the final exhibition match on September 3, before the launch of the national Women’s League next year.