'It wasn't worth it': Kiwi rower Zoe McBride reveals shocking reasons behind early retirement

Leading Kiwi rower Zoe McBride has revealed the mental and physical struggles that have prompted her to retire from the sport at just 25.

The lightweight world champion says she developed an eating disorder, as part of the ongoing battle to maintain her position as one of the best in the world. 

McBride has been a sculling force since 2015, when she won the first of her three world championships gold medals. Her most recent came in the double sculls in Austria in 2019.

But McBride has announced that the expectations have taken too high a toll on her body and she's chosen to walk away from her Olympic dream just months shy of the Tokyo Games.

"Even though I had so much success, it took away so much of myself that it wasn't worth it," McBride tells Newshub.

She revealed the challenges of staying under the 57kg weight required to be a lightweight rower, which had led to battles with mental health and RED-S syndrome - an increasingly common condition in female athletes, resulting in a loss of menstrual periods. 

"I've struggled at times not getting a cycle," she says. "If you're not getting it, it's obvious something's wrong.

Last year, McBride's issues came to a head, when she struggled to recover from a stress fracture.

"My bone density and health was degrading," she recalls. "My body basically wasn't strong enough to fight away the injury."

"It was a big wake-up call that I wasn't healthy and that I hadn't been healthy getting to lightweight over the past year.

She sought help and admits she's been in a good place in recent months, but challenging for gold in Tokyo would have come at too high a cost. 

"To get back down to weight, I would've been 100 percent been back in an eating disorder," she says.

In a recent survey conducted by High Performance Sport New Zealand, 73 percent of female athletes felt pressured by their sport to change their physical appearance to conform to gender ideals. 

"This is a key moment where change really needs to happen," says Waikato University school of health professor Holly Thorpe."It needs to happen, because we know these issues exist.

"To do nothing would be a real issue."

McBride hopes some change will come as a result of shedding light on her ordeal, helping the Olympic aspirations of future female athletes. 

"I hope me being able to talk about it helps other people to talk about it as well," says McBride.

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