Gail Devers: three-time Olympic gold medalist on how Graves’ disease “made me who I am”

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While his time of 10.82 seconds was less than a tenth of a second faster than his four closest rivals, it was not only the nature of the race that made Devers’ victory so special, but also the path. that she had walked to get there.

In the years leading up to the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, Devers suffered a series of traumatic health complications – a “range of symptoms” that brought her closer to retirement even before her athletic career. left the starting blocks.

Weight loss, hair loss, headaches, insomnia, bulging eyes and painful skin sores were some of the health issues that plagued Devers in her early 20s, leading her to action. desperate over a period of two and a half years.

“I looked like a monster… I couldn’t stand my appearance,” the 54-year-old told CNN Sport.

“I actually covered my mirrors and stopped looking at myself. I stopped going out because when I was going out people were like, ‘Hey, what’s wrong with you ? ‘ and I had no answers. “

Devers competes in the 60m hurdles playoffs at the IAAF World Indoor Championships in Budapest, Hungary.
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Back in the days of the 1988 Seoul Olympics, Devers says she ran as slowly as in high school and didn’t make it past the 100m hurdles semifinals, her favorite event.

Her condition, which some doctors attribute to overtraining, worsened when she returned home; at one point, his weight dropped to 79 pounds, 40 pounds less than his usual running weight.

“I had given a resignation speech to my trainer saying I didn’t want to take his time because I’m competing or trying to compete and pulling my hamstrings while jogging,” said himself. remembers Devers.

“There was a problem, (but) he didn’t let me quit, thank goodness, and said, ‘We’re going to find a solution. “”

It was only after years of visiting health experts across the United States that Devers finally learned that she suffered from Graves’ disease, an autoimmune disease that causes the gland to become overactive. thyroid.

“Then the tears started to flow,” she says of when she was diagnosed. “Finally, someone got an answer for me.”

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Throughout his career, Devers was easily recognized by his long fingernails.

Today, 30 years after being diagnosed with Graves ‘disease, Devers wants to raise awareness about the disease and its accompanying symptoms, especially since July marks Graves’ disease awareness month.

She continues to take medication every day and only recently discovered that eye problems – pain, swelling, and sensitivity to light – are linked to thyroid eye disease, a condition related to Graves’ disease, but which requires treatment. separate processing.

“If there are 10 million people who could have Graves’ disease, then my job, our job is to ensure that 10 million people are under the care of a doctor,” Devers explains.

After his diagnosis in 1990, Devers received radiation therapy which caused painful blisters in his feet as a side effect of the medication. The situation got so bad that the doctors almost amputated her feet.

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But despite all of the complications of Graves’ disease, Devers maintains her health issues have propelled her to new heights once she is able to return to athletics.

“I always tell people that if I had to live my life I would ask for my Graves disease again because it made me who I am,” she says.

“I believe that I am stronger to have to go through what I have been through… Everyone faces challenges. We all feel that sometimes the walls are closing in on us and that there is no of exit.

” What are you doing ? You remember that strength and resilience that you have when you step on the line. “

Following her 100m victory in 1992, Devers won gold in the 100m and 4x100m relay at the 1996 Games in Atlanta, making her one of three women to successfully defend the 100m title at the Games. Olympic.

Despite winning three world championship titles in the 100m hurdles, Devers’ quest for an Olympic medal in this event proved doomed to failure.

In 1992, she was on her way to a comfortable victory before crossing the final hurdle and stumbling across the finish line in fifth place. Statisticians later calculated that if she hadn’t tripped over the last hurdle, Devers would have broken the world record.

Devers (right) crosses the finish line of the 100m hurdles final at the 1992 Olympic Games after crossing the last hurdle.

Then in Atlanta four years later, she could only finish fourth in the final; in 2000, she advanced to the semifinals with a hamstring tear, and in 2004, a calf injury hampered her progress.

However, her gold in the 100m in 1996 – when Devers edged out Jamaican Merlene Ottey after they both recorded the same finish times – still makes her the last American to win the Olympic title. from 100 m.

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At the Tokyo Olympics, which begin later this month, Devers says she hopes an athlete from the United States can end the 25-year wait for a gold in the women’s 100m, but also admits that she is a fan of the British sprinter and the 200m world champion. Dina Asher Smith.

After a career that has been shaped by the resilience and determination to overcome his battles for health, Devers is uniquely positioned to advise current Olympians as they approach the Games after a year of confusion and uncertainty from the pandemic. .

“You have challenges, you have stress, you have doubts about yourself,” Devers explains. “Whether it’s swimming, diving, whatever your event, when you get on your plate, be prepared to do whatever it takes so you don’t come away with question marks.

Having competed until the age of 40, Devers still remains active and recently completed her first half marathon. Away from sports, she remains dedicated to raising public awareness of Graves’ disease.

“I’ve been doing things for 30 years,” she says. “I have to help people cross the finish line faster than I have.”

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