Harriet Brown wants to be able to say the words ‘menstrual cycle’ in a room full of people and not have any men bolt for the exit door.
The exercise physiologist is combining her passion for women’s health with her experience as a celebrated athlete in surf lifesaving.
The 32-year-old is visiting schools, clubs and sporting groups across the Gold Coast to educate girls, women, coaches and trainers about the impact periods can have on performance.
“One thing I find interesting is the majority of coaches and sports teachers in Australia are men and so often when I go into the room to present, the male coaches and teachers will say, ‘oh, I will just step out of the room while you talk about the girls' stuff,” Brown said.
“I say, ’no absolutely not, you need to learn about this stuff, this is the physiology of the athletes you deal with every day and you need to listen so you are comfortable with having these conversations’.”
Brown’s talks are based on discussions she has had with fellow athletes, researchers from the Queensland Academy of Sport, doctors and dieticians.
“A lot of the time the girls and young women I’m addressing sit there with wide eyes because no one has ever spoken to them about this information before,” she said.
“Some girls might be really struggling with a painful period and not know that they should go and see someone to get it checked out.”
The ironwoman said athletes in sports like surf lifesaving, swimming, triathlon and track and field are at particular risk of irregular periods or periods stopping altogether due to heavy training loads and not adequately fuelling their bodies.
“I’ve learnt that quite a few former athletes actually left their sport because of their menstrual cycle; because of heavy periods and painful periods.”
“But even more shockingly, because some of them were no longer getting a period their doctors advised them to stop sport to rectify that,” Brown said.
Brown moved to the Gold Coast from Geelong in 2009 to join Bond’s swimming squad and study a Bachelor of Exercise and Sport Science at the University.
She was awarded a Collegiate Scholarship to cover 50 per cent of her tuition.
Her time at Bond inspired her to understand how female athletes can better manage their health.
“When I went through university there was barely any research done on females. Even now, I think eight per cent of all the research on athletes is on females and the rest is either men or a combination.
“There’s a big gap in knowledge in that area but it’s starting to become a topic people are taking note of,” she said.
Brown was excited to deliver her talk to her fellow Bond swimmers and said coaches were on board from the beginning.
“It was great. Chris Mooney and Kyle Samuelson came along and they were sitting there listening and both of them learnt more about this area,” she said.
Away from female athlete health, Brown has recently won the Ironwoman World Championships in Italy.
She is coming off a sensational season for her club Northcliffe, having been crowed the 2022 Nutri-Grain Ironwoman Series champion and Summer of Surf champion.