Accomplished multisport athlete and advocator for raising awareness for depression, are a few ways to introduce Sia Svendsen who has joined our collective as a brand ambassador.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself?
I grew up on a little island in the Baltic Sea belonging to Denmark. I traveled around the world alone for a few years in my late teens and spent a year in the US as an exchange student, and joined their cross country team. I moved to New Zealand 1st of Jan 2002 and it’s now home.
How do you see yourself?
It’s hard to describe how I see myself! I try and work hard, look after my friends and people I cross paths with and do the best I can to live, laugh and love.
Are you working as a full time athlete?
I work full time time- but not as an athlete. I was once offered support and guidance if I wanted to follow the road cycling path, but at the time I never took it to seriously. I’ve always been competitive and active from an early age playing handball, and I played a lot of sports as a child- horse riding, gymnastics, tennis etc.
I currently don’t have a coach as I don’t have the money for it, so I’m just having a year doing what I feel like. I am looking at new career path for 2016 so that’s my focus.
You are a pretty accomplished New Zealand multisport athlete Sia, but can you explain what this sport is?
Multisport is cycling, kayaking and off road running over various distances. It can have either road cycling or mtbing or both. Kiwis are amazing at this sport as well as adventure racing, and I’ve done quite of number of the New Zealand multisport races.
What races have you enjoyed recently?
This year I really enjoyed racing with two of my best friends Floortje to win the women’s section of the new 2 day multisport race Red Bull Defiance.
Then the new tandem section at the coast to coast event where you race the whole course together, where Joanna Williams and I won the women’s race. I haven’t yet planned any for next yearin New Zealand but loved those races so we’ll see once closer to spring again.
I’m looking forward to my first holiday in 5 years to Europe soon too, and two big solo races in mtbing and my first 100km mountain run in Switzerland.
Can you remember when you started running?
My passion for running started when I was a student in the US as 17 years old. I ran my first marathon as 18 and and first adventure race at 21, then first Ironman at 22 . I started running as a bit of a laugh and discovered I was able to suffer physically alot!
How is running important to you and your life and it’s direction?
I love running and it’s something I hope I can do for a long time but currently nursing an running injury so had to take some time off. I love just letting my mind go and enjoy nature when exploring the trails. Running is so pure, simple and nurturing for me.
Describe what your #runnershigh is like?
Euphoric and for a moment I can feel on top of the world.
What you have done for highlighting depression in athletes and sport, and the community over the past few years is astonishing and inspiring. Can you tell us how since being open about depression your personal and sporting life has changed?
I didn’t find it easy to be open about suffering with depression. My amazing mentor and Sports Doctor Nat Anglem and his wife Kristina Anglem- one of the world’s best multi sport athletes, told me to be honest about the fact that I was ill to people. Their support was very much appreciated.
When I told people that I suffered with depression they then chose to support me, run away or ask more questions. I don’t have family here and my mum is back in Denmark, so it was a very lonely process. Telling people I was ill with depression was a real help at the time.
I was really struggling doing what I loved to do- racing, but yet also found it somehow comforting as it made me get outside and be around people. At the time I did write a few articles about it as I was overwhelmed, and the response was actually a larger issue in New Zealand and amongst athletes than I knew.
I chose to write about it so if anyone felt they needed to talk to someone they could talk to me. The illness is not something that takes a week or two to pass, and it often takes a few years and many people may get a relapse. It may not be as severe as the first time, but again it’s is a hurdle that again can take 6 months to a year to pass. Depression has changed me, and its important for me now to surround myself with people who I value.
Your message clearly explores that depression is not going to stop you when it comes to being active, and an athlete. What’s your approach or routines do you feel helps you deal with depression the best?
I don’t have any right answers for anyone, just a personal guide from what helped me. I suffered a relapse last year when I experienced another personal trauma- I wasn’t able to train much let alone race much as I was quite fatigued emotionally as well as physically. It’s hard for people who don’t get depressed to understand. I just tried to process it the best I could and change my way of thinking during the sad times.
I try and look after myself but I don’t find it easy. I don’t really talk about it as I don’t want to bother people and like many others with depression I’m an expert in just putting on a smiley face. The days would be tough, but as I got through them, the sad times become less frequent, and I become better.
I suppose my approach is to try and take the sad days in my stride and understand that the sadness will only last up to a week. That it will pass. If I can train it’s a bonus. I know exercise is a great and effective anti depressant but as a competitive athlete I always want to do my best, so if my best is not good enough, in our minds a run can quickly turn into negativity. These thoughts are something that can upset me more, than being good for you me. Being aware of this helps my training to be fun and enjoyable.
I think being able to call upon people who I trust and are happy to be there for me on a run, walk or just to be there chatting is important to me. The trouble with depression is that when I’m sad, the good days seem to be few and far between, and the people who support me help me remember the better days.
I’m feeling well these days, and doing good, but the road is such a tough one with depression, and it’s hard.
What three tips can you pass to people suffering with depression?
1. Supportive relationships. 2. Communication. 3. Keep active and involved in social things even if it’s for just 30min a day.
We spoke recently and you talked of visiting schools to give back and share your experiences with depression to young people. Can you tell us more about this?
I haven’t done much speaking – only for a CUREKIDS fundraising dinner and then at Geraldine High School. I think it’s important if kids feel they can have an opportunity to either listen or maybe know that it is important they can talk to friends, teachers or family.
Often when we need help and support it doesn’t come from the ones we expect it from, but from people who cross our path and have a strength to reach out to you. If my talks help to spread the message that it’s OK to talk about depression, then that’s great.
You competed in this years Godzone for the CUREKIDS Charity. How was it?
Yes, I raced Godzone Adventure race for CUREKIDS with a great team (CEO, ex All Black and a ex Blues player). We raised money for mental health for CUREKIDS and it was an inspiring journey to be part of for us all.
What’s your philosophy on giving back to people?
I’ve been a sports guide for outdoor athletes for sometime. I had a second job over the Summer as a guide for the Coast to Coast mountain run, and it has taught me a lot about people. The runners were there to get tips and support on how to get through the mountains, but a lot were using the race as a new beginning. After tremendous hardship- abuse, separation, Christchurch earthquake, depression, weight loss etc. They were working through it on these runs.
I feel that you can give back by listening to people and being part of their own journey. These stories make me happy.