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18th November 2020

BACK ON THE START LINE

Before the break in her foot, British middle-distance runner Bobby Clay had no indication that there was anything wrong with her bone health.

“I had competed internationally in athletics from a young teenager all the way through to the end of my first year at university,” Bobby tells This Is MedTech. During this time she became one of Britain’s most talented young middle-distance runners.

“It was going really well,” Bobby recalls. “I had no inclination that my body wasn’t functioning properly, other than the fact that I hadn’t started my period. I was aware that this meant my body fat was very low. To me, it was a good indication. I had a very warped sense of what was healthy.”

In reality, her bone health was suffering. “Because I never had a hormone cycle, instead of my bones getting stronger they were just getting weaker and weaker,” Bobby explains. This was brought to light at the age of 18 when she broke her foot in the swimming pool.

“I got sent straight away for some DEXA scans,” says Bobby. These are dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry scans that measure bone mineral density. “That’s when I was diagnosed with osteoporosis. From that point onwards my body lived up to that diagnosis – standing up, sitting down, everyday activities, I was just breaking bones,” she adds.

It wasn’t until she went to see a gynaecologist, who carried out multiple scans on her hands to assess her bone age and ordered blood tests to assess, among other things, whether she produced any oestrogen or progesterone that Bobby was put on hormone therapy and started to get better. “It took a while, but I was suddenly so much less tired. I had so much more energy to live – to train and then actually be a functioning human being after training,” Bobby remembers.

Helped greatly by a period tracking app, she also began to embrace her newly developed body. “It told me what was going on in my body and how it would affect my training, allowing me to get the most out of myself in a safe way.”

Since her diagnosis Bobby has not only thrown herself into cross-training, but has also developed a new love of cycling in the velodrome, already breaking records and taking gold with her university women’s team pursuit squad, in the 2018 British Universities & Colleges Sport (BUCS) championships. ‘I am also doing a bit more running, but very carefully – it is just gentle runs because it clears my head,” Bobby reveals. “I am getting somewhere with it, which is nice, but I am trying my hardest not to get too competitive.”

“There is always a way through something, but it is not necessarily the quickest way that is the right way,” Bobby reflects. “You should trust your instincts and trust what your body is telling you, always.” This new approach has enabled Bobby to get back where she belongs in her new-found love, cycling. “The second I was on the start line I thought: ‘I am back where I should be’,” she says.