with Eating Disorders
Zina Garrison was born on 16 November 1963 and grew up in Houston, Texas. She started playing tennis at the age of 10 and won the Wimbledon and US Open junior titles in 1981. Despite battling bulimia during most of her career, she enjoyed great success, winning the mixed doubles with Sherwood Stewart at the Australian Open in 1987 and Wimbledon in 1988, and the 1988 Olympic women's doubles gold with Pam Shriver. In 1990 she defeated Monica Seles and Steffi Graf to reach the Wimbledon final, where she lost 6-4 6-1 to Martina Navratilova. After retiring in 1996, she went through a divorce and relapsed into bulimia, spending time in a treatment centre after suffering depression in 1999. She is captain of the US Federation Cup team and runs a non-profit tennis coaching foundation for children in Houston.
'Bulimia crushes your self-esteem. It took me five years to get help'
I suffered from bulimia for eight years after my mother died. I was 19 and her death hit me badly. I had never been comfortable with my looks and felt I had lost the only person who loved me unconditionally. The pressure of being labelled 'the next Althea Gibson' only made things worse. I felt I was never going to be allowed to grow into just becoming me. Bulimia was my way of coping. I would eat as much junk food as I could and then go to the bathroom to throw it all back up. I also went through a phase that was closer to anorexia, living on a diet of lettuce and broccoli. This went on for months at a time.
Even though I was training hard I felt constantly tired. My appearance was deteriorating, especially my skin, which was blotchy, as well as my hair and nails. People don't realise how bulimia crushes your self-esteem. Throughout this period I never told anyone what I was doing to myself. It was more than five years later that I got help. I was watching television in my hotel room in between matches at a tournament in Kansas. There was a programme on about bulimia and what it does to your body. I knew what I was doing wasn't right, but I never realised the extent of my problem. The moment the programme ended I went to get help. It basically saved my life.
Reaching the Wimbledon final in 1990 was incredible. People outside tennis suddenly knew who I was. I was so nervous on the day of the final, even though no one thought I had a chance against Martina Navratilova. She had beaten me 33 times - I had beaten her only once. Of all the people I could have been playing, it had to be her! Althea Gibson made me feel even worse in the locker room beforehand. She told me she had the champagne on ice for when I got back. I lost 6-4 6-1, but loved every second of it. Wimbledon was always a special place for me, as I won the junior tournament there in 1981. I went to the Wimbledon ball wearing the same dress I had just worn to my high school prom.
I had probably played on a year too long when I retired in 1996. My last 12 months on the tour were physically tough, but it's hard to stop doing something you love. I became very depressed as, on top of retirement, my marriage [to Willard Jackson] had broken down. One day, I took a dangerous mixture of drugs [Sudafed and Tylenol]. I was at rock bottom. Later, I went into therapy for my depression. I had done the best I could in life, yet my career and marriage were falling apart. I was unhappy. I had always wanted to have children and that clearly wasn't going to happen.
Getting better is a slow process. I deal with it by keeping busy. I have my own non-profit tennis academy in Houston that aims to educate children of all races and backgrounds about life. I became assistant to Billie Jean King on America's Federation Cup team and, in 2003, I took over as captain, a role I still enjoy today. Now, I have plans - I want to write my own TV show and a cookbook. I am still a lot heavier than I want to be and I still get down sometimes, but I've decided that I am what I am. I've been in a relationship for a couple of years and things are going well. I am proud of what I have accomplished and happier than I've been for a long time.