A natural path to fulfilment
When naturopath Kate Smyth advises clients on how to stick to a healthier living routine, she talks of stepping stones. She encourages them to focus on achieving – and celebrating – the small feats which pave the way toward their bigger goal.
It is something Kate experienced first-hand in what has been an incredible journey which took her from feeling unfit in her mid 20s, to taking on fun runs and, ultimately, Olympic marathons.
“I ran as a child at school, like most kids, participating in cross country and fun things like that,” Kate recalls.
“Then I moved to Sydney and started working but I overworked and did too much so I decided to take a break and travel overseas.
“I really let my hair down and enjoyed eating my way around Europe so I came back with saddle bags.
“I just felt really uncomfortable in that I’d put on about 20 kilograms which was a lot to carry for a small framed person.”
Kate says her motivation to start running was to shed kilos but mostly to feel good about herself again.
She set herself two goals.
“The first was to finish a marathon without walking – just to participate and have fun,” she says.
“The other was to bungee jump to overcome a fear of heights.
“I ended up doing both of them.”
But it was that first marathon run in Canberra at age 28 which pivoted her life in an incredible new direction.
Wearing her brother’s running shorts and basic sneakers, Kate crossed the line and made her way over to legendary long-distance runner Robert de Castella to seek his advice.
“He gave me some tips in terms of getting a coach, training properly, getting a routine and some proper running gear,” she says, laughing at the recollection of what she was wearing.
“I fell in love with running and over the years I just progressed.
“It’s one of those great sports where if you practice and you have continuity, you will progress.”
Kate went on to compete in the women’s marathon for Australia at the Olympic and Commonwealth Games, becoming one of the all-time fastest women in Australia setting a personal best time of two hours 28 minutes to qualify for the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics.
But with success also came challenges.
It was while on an altitude training camp at the AIS in Canberra that Kate became unwell.
“I went to lots of different medical professionals, sports medicine doctors, normal GPs, a range of people and they just couldn’t work out what was going on,” she says.
“That’s when I saw a naturopath and an integrated GP and they looked at me with a more holistic approach.”
Through that process Kate discovered she had multiple health issues. She was pre-diabetic, had liver damage, chronic fatigue and anaemia. She was also diagnosed with coeliac disease.
“You can see how a quick visit to the doctor would not discover all that – it was complicated,” she says.
“Through that guidance I realised that sometimes we do need to have a broader approach to our health.”
It took Kate three months to feel well again and she went on to qualify for the Olympics.
It also sparked something inside her to make a change and leave behind her corporate marketing role in Collins Street.
“After the Olympics I really felt that I had to do something I was passionate about in life rather than being on that treadmill of earning money in a role that wasn’t lighting up my soul, so to speak,” she says.
Kate stepped back from elite endurance running and put her energies into completing her third degree, a Bachelor of Health Science – Naturopathy.
“It just seemed like a beautiful fit for me so I went back and studied for another five years,” she explains.
“Now being able to do that full-time is not really work, it’s a joy to see people be able to achieve their goals and take on new adventures and challenges.”
Kate is now a sports naturopath and founded the Athlete Sanctuary which has offices in Torquay and Ballarat.
Her practice specialises in targeted health strategies, performance nutrition and holistic coaching support for athletes, in particular sportswomen.
She works with athletes suffering from issues such as fatigue for unknown reasons, anaemia, irregular periods, menopause and perimenopause, as well as digestive issues.
Kate, who still runs most days and recently took up mountain biking, is also a sought-after guest speaker at schools, academies and in the corporate space.
It is clear she has found her niche in Torquay where she runs her business and also nurtures an enviable garden filled with healthy organic produce.
“It lights me up every day, it gets me out of bed,” Kate beams, talking about the career she has carved out for herself.
“I just think ‘yep, somebody else gets to chase down their dreams’.
“They ring me and say ‘hey, I nailed that race and did a PB’ and I do a happy dance on the other end of the phone.
“It’s like me reliving that whole beautiful journey again through somebody else – it’s so great.”
Discover more about Athlete Sanctuary at athletesanctuary.com.au and follow Kate on Instagram @katesmythsportsnaturopath.