Leah Pells is three-time Track and Field Olympian, who represented Canada at the Summer Olympics from 1992 to 2000. A silver medalist in the women’s 1500 metres at the 1999 Pan American Games in Winnipeg, Leah was once ranked first in the world in the 1500 metres. She is also a survivor of mental health issues, overcoming her upbringing in a household of addiction, abuse and poverty to become an accomplished athlete.
Determined to use her experiences to help others, Leah is now a school counsellor and registered clinical counsellor. She tells her incredible story of survival and courage in her book, “Not About the Medal”. We talked to Leah about her difficult upbringing, how the Olympic games helped her overcome her mental health struggles, and how she ran her way to wellness.
When did you begin struggling with your mental health?
Leah: Growing up there was a lot of trauma in my home life. My Mum, who I loved very much, was an alcoholic and that brought a lot of instability and abuse to our home. It was not a safe place.
I was in my early teens when I started to have difficulties sleeping and began to notice different symptoms, which I know today was Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I would get startled easily, had panic attacks at school and was terrified of the dark. To this day, I struggle with being in our house alone. I have two dogs who are with me wherever I am in the house.
What inspired you to get into running track and how did it impact your journey towards mental wellness?
Leah: My dad took me to the track as a little girl and I loved seeing kids running around it. This inspired me to join a track club and it was then that my love affair with running began. Running, really saved me. When I felt extremely anxious and sad, I would run and that helped me feel calm. Today I run for the same reasons, to feel well and to connect with myself and nature.