"It Was Basically Do or Die": How This Athlete Overcame Cancer at 19
The owner of long limbs, perfectly tousled blonde locks, and a jawline practically made for the runway, you could say that model and athlete Amy Pejkovic has it all. And in a way, she does, but this 24-year-old’s success hasn’t come without serious challenges and obstacles that at one point threatened her life.
At 19, after months of dizziness and headaches, what was originally misdiagnosed as an ear infection turned out to be a brain tumour—a diagnosis made while she was in training for high jump the 2012 London Olympics. “It was soul shattering. As someone that was getting through life pretty easily, I was very content with where I was heading. To have my happiness stripped away and filled with fear was nothing like I had ever experienced.”
But, in true athletic style, discipline, resilience, and hard work have meant that Pejkovic is back training and hunting for gold at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. Inspired by her story, we sat down with the Champion ambassador to learn about how she overcame the fight of her life, and how she maintains balance, rest, and mental health with a busy schedule.
Keep scrolling for the full interview.
I have learnt to embrace challenges and learn from them and I have always been one to love a challenge—the harder the challenge the better.
MyDomaine Australia: What are the main lessons you’ve learnt through sport that have allowed you to be strong through testing times?
Amy Pejkovic: I’d say that I have learnt more lessons through life itself, which in turn has helped me through my illness rather than just in sport. Firstly, I have learnt to embrace challenges and learn from them, and I have always been one to love a challenge—the harder the challenge the better. I’ve also learnt to be patient. As an athlete nothing happens overnight. Perseverance is also key, you will eventually see results.
Mind over matter is another huge one for me. If your mind isn’t in it, your body isn’t either. I didn’t know I had these traits in me until it was basically do or die. It was a huge challenge for me, physically and mentally, and to be honest, still is to this day.
I didn’t let my mind or body give up once. I was patient with my body, I had to let it recover and heal, and slowly re-introduce exercise so I didn’t break or tear anything. This was part of the reason why I decided to be a part of the Champion campaign, I think it’s so important to teach everyone else out there these skills so that they can always feel like they’ve got the heart of a champion and can overcome the difficulties they face.
MD: Are there any resources you use, that allow you to keep mentally and emotionally strong?
AP: I have been reading a few books. One is called Grit ($20) and the other book I am currently half way through is The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck ($22), they both pick your brain and get you thinking in ways you normally wouldn’t. Besides those books I talk to my psychologist, Wally Salinger from the Alpha Potential once a fortnight, or once a month. He has definitely helped me through quite a bit! Taught me different techniques to handle certain emotions, how to accept them, and use them in a positive light.
MD: What’s your go-to work out when you’re not really feeling up to it?
AP: Even if I’m not feeling up to it, I just force myself to get the session done. I will, however, usually take a little longer, reduce the weight if I’m in the gym, or reduce the speed if I’m on the track. Otherwise, I will go for a walk and do a core circuit, they are my favourite. An ab wheel is something you should invest in as it’s such a killer core workout.
STAY ON TRACK:
MD: What’s your go-to meal throughout the week?
AP: My favourite meal would have to be a naked burrito bowl made with chicken and quinoa. It is quick and easy and pretty healthy. I will always pack it full of vegetables and try to make my own sauce for it, as the ones you buy in the supermarket are generally packed full of sugar.
I also love chicken, broccolini, and baby spinach with smoked paprika seasoning. It is honestly that good! I’ll always sprinkle a bit of salt-and-pepper in too. My go-to breakfast is usually Weet-Bix because they keep me full until lunch, which is what you need when you have morning sessions.
MD: What are some of the major lessons you have learnt from overcoming major obstacles?
AP: Don’t take anything for granted and appreciate the little things, they always mean the most.
MD: Do you have any advice for people dealing with illness or any words of encouragement?
AP: Staying positive is key. No matter where you are in the world there are always people to talk to and will want to help you with whatever you’re facing. Life is precious.