Frimley Green, 2014, and the final of the BDO Darts World Championship. Deta Hedman is just moments away from the crowning glory of her career – two sets up on Lisa Ashton, and throwing for the title.
Hedman has been the picture of ice-cool concentration all night but as she steps up to the oche, something seems different. She looks distracted, sweaty and uncomfortable. Her throws are off, and she loses the leg, then quickly the set. Shortly after, she is shaking Ashton’s hand, congratulating her on a remarkable 3-2 comeback victory.
What happened? Was it the pressure of the situation? Was Ashton simply that much better a player? No. Hedman was having a debilitating hot flush – like so many millions of women around the world, wrestling with the menopause.
Hedman was 55 in 2014, but had started experiencing menopausal symptoms several years before that, so she knew what was about to hit her that night in Surrey.
“The whole week I was having hot flushes before I played and I thought ‘thank God for that’ – I just didn’t want to have them when I was on the oche,” she recalls.
“In the final, I could feel it coming on. I played through it but I have never had a hot flush so bad, I was an absolute mess. With the tension that is why it was so horrendous. I should have asked to go to the toilet but at the time I was winning and I thought ‘you can do this’. But my head and everything just went.”
Losing a world title to the menopause is a cruel twist, seven years on and it is a defeat that still haunts her. “I was absolutely devastated afterwards,” she says. “I lost in the end because, by the time I came around and was trying to fight what was happening and stay focused, Lisa picked up momentum. My fightback was a little too late.
“Even now because of that experience I always hope that I have my hot flush before I get on the oche because it just throws me off my stride.”
Menopause is something almost every woman experiences but it is rarely spoken about in professional sport. Partly this is because by the time most athletes start to get symptoms they will be at the tail-end of their careers or retired; in sports such as darts, golf and equestrianism, however, where women can compete for longer, it can have a devastating impact.
Hot flushes are one of the classic symptoms of menopause, but there are myriad others which can impact on sporting performance – from joint pain to palpitations, low moods and ‘brain fog’.
‘My mood changes’
“There have been times when I was looking at the board and I have gone for a different shot than I was planning and I would think ‘why did you just do that?'” Hedman says. “I know when it is coming and my concentration goes all over the place.
“I get very irritable, sometimes I couldn’t be arsed being around people at times. I just want to sit on my own and say: ‘Leave me alone, let me stay in my own little world’. I do feel that my mood changes. One minute I am the life and soul of the party and next I just don’t want to be there.”
Hedman takes a cheerfully philosophical approach to her menopause – “Having lived your life, you know how to control yourself when the menopause symptoms happen,” she suggests – and says that, in darts, the subject is actually freely discussed.
In many other sports, however, it remains something of a taboo topic – or at least misunderstood in how it can impair performance. This partly stems from the wild disparity in symptoms that women can experience, which can surprise even experts in the field.