The papers might have been full of Jo Rowsell Shand and her achievements as a gold medallist at the Rio Olympics and alopecia sufferer, but she wasn’t the only woman on Team GB who dealt with – and triumphed over – the same issues.
Unlike Rowsell Shand, who was diagnosed with alopecia as a child, Heather Fisher (of the British women’s rugby sevens) wasn’t stricken with the ailment until she was in her late twenties. But it was still a huge blow for a woman who had already battled – and conquered – anorexia in her teens.
“In 2010 at the [women’s rugby] World Cup – that’s when my hair started really falling out completely,” she told the Mail Online.
“I remember walking to a meeting room and I only had strands of hair left and my friends said, ‘You need to just shave it off completely’. I did, but couldn’t look in the mirror for six or seven weeks. I couldn’t comprehend my own reflection.”
She found very quickly that her rugby teammates – and opposition players – were extremely supportive about the issue, and the outside world less so. “The struggle for me comes outside my rugby environment,” she revealed.
“People stare at my head and ask, ‘Have you got cancer? Are you getting better now? [and] I get called a man all the time. It’s always ‘yes Sir’ or ‘can I help you Sir?’ I’ve started saying, ‘Actually it’s Madam.’ It’s taken me a long time to get to that stage.”
It was experiences like these that encouraged Heather to become an ambassador for Alopecia UK, the British charity which supports sufferers of all ages and sexes. And while Team GB just fell short in their medal bid, losing their third-place final with Canada, Heather has come out of the experience like an absolute champ.