Alix Robertson The Knutsford woman who made an amazing comeback (with audio)
PUBLISHED: 16:58 23 November 2010 | UPDATED: 18:13 20 February 2013
The Knutsford woman who overcame anorexia and a broken back, pelvis and shoulder to complete one of the world's toughest challenges <br/>Interview by Paul Mackenzie
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When she reached out her hand to a rock in the Mediterranean, Alix Robertson had not just completed an epic long distance swim, she had defied all the odds and proved that there is life after anorexia.
The 32-year-old has turned her life around in the most incredible way. Just five years ago she weighed just five and a half stone and was putting her body through a punishing exercise regime which was making her seriously ill.
I fell into anorexia through over-exercise, Alix said. I was doing about four hours of serious exercise a day and eating nowhere near enough calories to sustain that. Consequently my weight dropped and I became rather unbalanced.
The illness cost me my job and there came a point where I realised something had to change. You sometimes have to reach the bottom before you can start looking up again.
I got to the stage where I was almost so ill that all I wanted was to recover. It can take that to make you realise you have do something about it.
Alix had always been a sporty girl - she swam for the Knutsford team and for her school in Shropshire where she also excelled at lacrosse - and had gone on to an active life with the Army, becoming an accomplished skier.
But when she was skiing with the British Army Ladies Ski Team at Vermatt in Switzerland in 2001, Alix broke her back and her pelvis. I was on a training run and I fell when I was coming through one of the gates. I managed to carry on and reached the bottom of the run but I knew something was wrong.
I had fractured my spine and my pelvis and had to be operated on to have it fused together again.
The rehabilitation took a year, a frustrating 12 months during which time she could not play any sport. And when she did start to get active again, she suffered another set-back.
I started training again with the military but ended up with stress fractures of my spine and my pelvis, she said. It was hard because I felt I hadnt achieved what I had set out to achieve. The injury put a stop to my sport for a while and I was constantly in quite a lot of pain.
I had always been active but that all had to be put to one side. You just have to wait for stress fractures to heal themselves and when they did, thats when I fell into anorexia.
But now Alix has proved that all these obstacles can be overcome and has recently completed one of the toughest physical challenges in the world - a 12 mile swim from Gibraltar to Morocco which fewer than 250 people have ever managed.
The route crosses one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world and as well as powerful currents, swimmers have to contend with intensely cold water and wildlife which includes dolphins, whales and sharks.
I didnt recover from anorexia a quick way, Alix added. I was an in-patient for a short time and then an out-patient for a while. The whole process took about two and half years.
I have subsequently had a very stable weight - about seven and half stone, which is a perfectly healthy weight for a 5ft 4in woman - but when I started training for the swim my physio and my trainer both said I had to gain weight.
I didnt relish the idea but I knew they were likely to say that and sometimes things are worth more than what you look like. I really wanted to complete the swim and so I started eating 3,500 calories a day to build up.
Alix chose to swim the Straits of Gibraltar because its more of a challenge than the Channel and she had been hoping to complete the swim with her friend Camilla Howard, an Officer in the RAF. But Camilla underwent an emergency appendix operation and was restricted to a supporting role in the boat which tracked Alix across the water.
And Alixs preparations didnt go smoothly either - another skiing accident, this time at Klosters in April, left her with a broken shoulder.
The swim took a shade under six hours and Alix said: There were some dark moments but Camilla was shouting things out to me and I was thinking of all sorts of random things - everything from gorillas to Kylie Minogue, anything really to distract my mind.
For the whole swim I had the mentality that I wouldnt look back or forward, just exist in the here and now. As long as my arms were working I knew Id get there. I was cold and my shoulder but my arms still worked so I kept going.
I was looking at the land and thinking it cant be much further but then someone on the boat shouted there was a rock near me which was classed as Moroccan land. There was a great sense of achievement when I finished but it was quite a surreal moment when it was over.
She and Camilla are now considering what to do next. Maybe the Channel, but Camilla is talking about the Mississippi - not across it, up it - or perhaps another strip of the Mediterranean, or a double length of Windermere I dont know yet.
Alix, who runs a business which looks after the London homes of internationally famous names from showbiz, sport and foreign royal families, raised more than 10,000 for Beat, a charity which helps people with eating disorders.
I wanted to raise money for them and to raise awareness because its one of those illnesses that people dont seem to talk about even though a huge number of people suffer from it, Alix said. I also wanted to show that you can come through the other side of it.