Catching Up with Rachel Flatt

2010 Olympic Figure Skater Talks Olympics, Life and Mental Health

Article by Ashley Hamershock

Photography by Michelle & Paul Harvath Photography & Leah Adams

Originally published in Colorado Springs Lifestyle

The 2022 Winter Games are fast approaching. We caught up with retired figure skating champion Rachael Flatt for a little Q&A about the Games, life and her latest professional passion: mental health and eating disorders.

Flatt, a Cheyenne Mountain High School graduate, participated in the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in Vancouver.

What is it like to be in the Olympics?

It’s absolutely incredible, and there’s truly nothing like it. Competing at the Games is the experience of a lifetime. Being able to represent Team USA is an honor, but you’re performing at the highest level in front of one of the biggest sports audiences, which can feel stressful! When I competed in Vancouver, I performed two of the best programs of my career, and not only was it exhilarating, but it was so rewarding to do my best and to show all the hard work, time, and energy that I’d dedicated to the sport.

One of the most memorable aspects of being at the Games was participating in both the Opening and Closing Ceremonies because it’s such a great bonding experience for all the athletes. Those two weeks are incredibly taxing and full of highs and lows!

What do athletes feel as the opening ceremonies approach?

Lots of excitement and anxiety! It’s stressful preparing for the Games – even more now with COVID as an added stressor. Not only is it the pinnacle of your sports career, but you’re dealing with tricky logistics, packing for weeks at a time, a slew of media interviews, and all sorts of other demands on top of your typical training regimen. I had about two weeks between when I competed at our National Championships when I qualified for the team and the Opening Ceremonies.

Between that time, I had to catch up on all my AP high school classes, conduct up to a few media interviews and TV spots nearly every day, recover from Nationals and train for the Games, plan my travel, pack, and prepare to be gone from school! But more than anything, heading into the Games feels so exciting regardless of everything else going on, and it is so important to stay focused on the day-to-day routine so that you can perform your best.

What do you feel? Do you ever wish you were still competing or are you 100% glad to be in a new phase of life? Do you still skate?

I’m VERY happily retired now! Every once in a while, I have an urge to go out and skate, but my body is very thankful I’m no longer putting it through incredibly taxing training demands every day! I coach on occasion and do a few seminars here and there, but graduate school keeps me very busy at the moment. I’m also really enjoying picking up other hobbies, plus my husband and I go camping and overlanding quite a bit, so I’m making up for all the time I spent in an ice rink growing up by spending as much time outdoors as I can now!

Where are you in the PhD program? Have you written your dissertation yet? What is your main area of research?

I’m in my fourth year, so I’ve got one more year plus internship and post-doc before I’m a licensed clinician and can pursue some longer-term career goals! My dissertation covers a study where we are using data collected through wearable technology to predict when people are about to engage in disordered eating behaviors, with the eventual goal of preventing such behaviors in real time before they occur. Eventually, I hope to merge my passions for researching and treating eating disorders in athletes (and athlete mental health more broadly) and digital interventions to create more access to evidence-based care.

What has surprised you in your research?

One thing that’s been incredibly interesting is being a part of a study we started right at the beginning of COVID that has tracked people with a history of eating disorders in terms of how the pandemic has impacted their symptoms. We saw a dramatic increase in frequency and severity of binge eating and purging behaviors consistent with increases in anxiety, depression, and other mental health concerns seen in other research. The past year and a half has also shown some of the shortcomings with existing mental health care systems – most people trying to find a therapist have been placed on months-long waiting lists, don’t have access to a professional near them, or can’t afford them. We definitely need more treatment options and providers!

Best tools out there for folks struggling with eating disorders and mental health concerns?

There are some great resources out there including the National Eating Disorders Association, Mental Health America, the Academy of Eating Disorders, and the National Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders websites. There are certainly some well-known digital tools like Recovery Record that have used a lot of research as foundations for the programming, in addition to new startups like Equip, which is trying to create more access to some of the leading treatments for adolescents with eating disorders through telehealth options. The most important thing is to seek help when you need it.

You are one of 13 members of the USOPC Mental Health Task Force – tell us about that?

I was honored to be asked to be a part of this group nearly two years ago when we were tasked with shaping the initial steps toward building out mental health care for Team USA athletes, and time has flown! The USOPC has hired some incredible mental health professionals as the core mental health services team. I’m so glad and relieved that the athletes are now able to work with the fantastic team that’s been built and led by Dr. Jess Bartley and the three Associate Directors, Drs. Angel Brutus, Taryn Brandt, and Emily Clark. The Task Force is now discussing what we want to accomplish by the LA 2028 Games and how to become a model for other Olympic and Paralympic Committees in terms of the care and resources offered to athletes. There’s a lot coming up, so stay posted!

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