Bridgett Doucet

Since returning to cross country this season Bridgett Doucet has returned to top form. She has won two of the multi-team invitationals she has participated in and finished second in a third. Here she cruises to the finish line at the Valerie McGregor Rattler Invitational at Marana High School.

Canyon Del Oro High School senior Bridget Doucet finished her final season in cross country on top of the podium, winning the Division II State Championship. However, for any other runner, it may have been just the final race of her high school career, but for Doucet it capped off a marathon of not only becoming the best in her favorite sport, but also in defeating a yearlong battle against anorexia.

Doucet came back to compete in her senior year after missing her entire junior season to battle a disease that according to the National Association of Eating Disorders affects one third of all adolescents. In total, more than 24 million people of all ages suffer from an eating disorder every year.

For Doucet, the characteristics that made her such a successful runner, also contributed to her suffering from anorexia. Anorexia is the specter that looms over Doucet. It is an “insidious” force that she and her family have to be constantly aware of, but as she has stressed time and again, it does not define her. 

“It was hard coming out of the cross country season,” said Doucet. “It was one of the pivotal moments of my recovery process. It was time to either be at the crossroads and go full bore into the disorder or turn around and say ‘I don’t want to keep living this way.’”

Doucet was state champion in her sophomore year in 2012, and was favored to win again in 2013, but to run at Doucet’s level, having proper nutrition is key.

Even though Doucet appeared healthy, and she was still running at a high level, more and more food was becoming an issue, one that had to be more aggressively dealt with.  

“To run at her level it takes a lot of fuel and anorexics do not like fuel,” said her mother Carrie Doucet.

Now the family lives by the motto “eat to live to run.”

In 2012, not even Doucet’s coach realized she was suffering from the eating disorder. 

“She is team oriented, a hard worker, very bright, coachable and selfless - all the attributes you would want in your athlete,” said CDO coach Rick Glider. “These are also the attributes of a kid that is anorexic. It was very hard for me to accept it. I denied it. How do you run this fast and you’re this sick?”

When it came to the start of her junior year, Glider was surprised to learn Doucet decided to take the season off. Before learning more about anorexia, Glider struggled with Doucet’s decision. He had been made aware of the disorder the year before and they had to be cognizant about it, but he did not notice things were worse. 

“I am looking at her she doesn’t look any different than last year,” Glider said. “This can’t be, this is wrong. She is a distance runner. They are thin. Look at national champion and world champion distance runners, they are thin, they can hide behind a light pole.”

Because he didn’t’ understand the disorder, or how Doucet had hidden the illness for so long, Glider sought assistance from a nutritionist at the University of Arizona to learn more about the condition. 

Taking the 2013 season off was a tough decision, but it was made easier by supportive teammates and coaches. Tears were flowing when Doucet announced her decision to her teammates, but everyone was supportive. No one was worried that the team was going to lose one of their top runners. Her health was the top priority. 

Doucet got help, turning to a local eating disorder clinic and meeting with nutritionists, therapists and psychologists. 

“It is an extensive thing,” Carrie Doucet said.  

Although much of the toll it takes is physical, anorexia is actually a mental disorder where the person suffers fear of gaining weight and often self-starve.”

Had Doucet continued on untreated, she could have done irreversible damage to her body. According to WebMD, anorexia starves the body of food, which can eventually stop the body’s organs from working properly. It can damage the heart, kidneys, digestion, bones, muscles and for females damage the ovaries.

For Doucet, continually competing on a cross-country course without the right amount of nutrients could have resulted in death.

Now, even though Doucet has gone through treatment and reached her goal of becoming a state champion,  she still has to worry about the disorder. 

“I’d say that it is something that is ongoing,” Doucet explained. “It is kind of like when you are in remission from an illness and you know there is a high probability it could come back, or at least a possibility of it coming back. But you can take preventative measures.

Running has been part of the recovery, but it can also become part of the problem.

“The thing with eating disorders is that they are insidious,” Doucet said. “They will take everything that you feel passionate about, everything you feel purposeful about and they will twist it and they will make it the opposite of what it is supposed to be.”

The very act of running can be twisted by the disorder and it is a reason many runners are susceptible to anorexia. 

“It is a double edged sword,” admits Doucet. “I feel so alive when I experience it with my team. It is a cathartic experience for me. It is also something that has to be monitored. When I put my whole effort into something that is when the disorder can creep up and say, ‘If you want to be at this level and want to be at this intensity that is where I get to take control.’”

Doucet returned to cross-country this season with no real expectations, but left a champion. She hoped to return to her previous form, but not at the risk of a health setback. She managed both.

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