Mary-Kate Slattery has led an interesting life.
The former Mount Anville Secondary School student was diagnosed with anorexia at the age of nine and at 10, almost suffered a heart-attack brought on by the eating condition.
Mental health problems and depression associated with such disorders followed and Slattery says she struggled during her early teenage years.
Now 23, Slattery is an ambassador for the 2020 Irish Life Health Schools’ Fitness Challenge – her second year endorsing the programme.
“I was inspired last year,” she says when asked why she agreed to return to the initiative.
The schools fitness challenge focuses on highlighting the benefits of exercise on mental and physical health in 12 to 18 year olds.
In a recent study of 19,000 young people, it was found that teenagers who play sport were less likely to experience severe anxiety (19%) compared to those who do not participate in sport (32%).
The same pattern is seen in depression.
In an attempt to cope with her mental health issues, Slattery says she turned to quite intense sports – first long-distance running and then boxing.
“I encourage every young person to find their comfort zone,” she says.
“Grab a buddy and find a sport that suits you and what you enjoy doing.
“I personally struggled with mental health during my early teenage years. I truly realised the power of physical movement as a form of stress release when I started boxing.
“It gives me such relief, allows me to express myself and to escape day-to-day stresses and overall, I feel stronger both physically and mentally.
“If my story can inspire even one student to get involved in sport or any form of movement, I would be delighted,” she says.
Slattery has been boxing at an amateur level since 2017 and says that if the “opportunity to turn professional comes, it comes.”
However, after taking a small bit of time off she says she has “fallen back in love with fighting” and has her next bout planned for February
Aside from sport, Slattery is in her final year at Trinity College studying law and last year spent 10 days at a silent meditation retreat in Morocco.
Since its inception in 2012, over 200,000 students have participated in the Irish Life Health Schools’ Fitness Challenge.
The goal of the programme is “to educate and equip young people with the skills and knowledge to incorporate exercise into their daily routine to help improve and maintain both physical and mental health.”
To find out more and to register for the Irish Life Health Schools’ Fitness Challenge, visit: www.irishlifehealth.ie/fitnesschallenge.