Why Olympian Jana Pittman is sharing her divorce experience to help other women

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Olympian hurdler Jana Pittman knows a thing or two about mental toughness – but even she struggled with divorce.

The 39-year-old former world champion hurdler went on to compete in the two-person bobsleigh event at the Sochi Winter Olympics, becoming the first female athlete to represent Australia in both the summer and winter games, and then forged a career in medicine.

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She is also now a mother to six children, most recently giving birth to twins Willow and Quinlan in March of this year.

But just over a decade ago, Pittman struggled through the end of her marriage to her first husband, and father to son Cornelis Levi, Chris Rawlinson, which ended in divorce in 2011 after the couple had reconciled following a previous separation in 2009.

Now, Pittman is sharing her experiences to assist women in similar situations. The Olympian will be a guest speaker at the Detox Your Divorce retreat in Sydney and she joined The Morning Show along with divorce lawyer Cassandra Kalpaxis to talk about the breakdown of her first marriage, and why she feels getting divorced can take a bigger toll on women.

Lawyer Cassandra Kalpaxis is advising women to take care of their emotional health when dealing with the stress of divorce. Credit: The Morning Show

Kalpaxis said women should manage their own needs to help navigate through the emotion that comes with a separation.

“It’s really about making sure that you seek professional help. So, seeing a psychologist is absolutely important, triaging those issues that might have led to the breakdown of the relationship. It’s also about ensuring that you’re able to learn the communication techniques that you’ll need to navigate your separation.

“But also, putting yourself first, putting your own oxygen mask on before you try and fit everyone else’s which we as women have a problem doing as caretakers,” Kalpaxis said.

Pittman then spoke of her own experiences and how she had limited support in dealing with the trauma involved with a divorce.

“To be honest it had to be about the children at that stage, but I didn’t have someone like Cassandra to lead the way and there was a lot of hurt emotions and a lot of feelings that got involved,” Pittman said.

“It could have been a much smoother process had I had some skills that I’ve certainly learned over the years with resilience.

“Obviously putting the children first, because ultimately none of us go into marriage for it to end in divorce and we certainly celebrate the arrival of children and it can be a really difficult place to stay dignified.

“I think going through with this conference that’s coming up, it’s an amazing event over two days and I’m really looking forward to being one of the guest speakers, to try and help women navigate through that space and find healing in themselves because I wish I had something like Cassandra offers back when I went through that divorce,” Pittman said.

Jana Pittman has decided to open up about her divorce in the hope of helping other women deal with the emotional stress they may endure. Credit: The Morning Show

While Pittman has now happily remarried and is raising her children with her husband, Sydney businessman Paul Gatward, she said it had taken time to recover from the divorce.

“I think it took me many years to heal from that divorce. I mean it was my coach who was my husband for that period of time. You know, the average marriage these days is lasting 12 years, that’s a huge amount of our lives that we’ve invested into that experience.

“It took so long (to move on) … I talk so often about resilience but I think one of the hardest things I went through in my life was my divorce.

“When I had the opportunity when Cassandra and the team got involved and asked me to speak at this event, to speak to women about something that is so personal to them, where I might be actually able to make a difference and speed up that healing process for these women, it was a no-brainer for me to get involved,” she said.

Since divorcing her first husband, former Olympian Pitt has remarried and shares three children with her second husband. Credit: @janapittmanofficial

Pittman said women often took longer than men to recover from the emotional impact divorce.

“[Women] often have a lot more child responsibilities. Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of men out there who are fantastic with their children and want to have an active role in the child’s life. I don’t know whether we have a bigger mother-guilt problem in women.

“I think we have that guilt … we’ve let ourselves, let our husband, let our families down and as I said, none of us go into (marriage) with the idea of divorce. We want our marriages to work, and when they don’t go that way I think we take it a little more hard than men do. That could be wrong, it’s just my opinion,” Pittman said.

The Detox Your Divorce Retreat is being held at QT Hotel Sydney this August 26 and 27, click here for more information

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