Alix Klineman will add a new title to her impressive resume this summer: Olympic beach volleyball player. While in Tokyo, Klineman plans to use her Olympic debut as a platform to encourage women to talk about their health. Hormones and periods aren’t a popular topic of conversation in the professional sports world, and Klineman wants that to change.
In the fourth episode of the My New Favorite Olympian podcast (below), Alix Klineman stresses the importance of destigmatizing conversations about women’s health. The four-time All-American volleyball player details her experience with menstrual health and the often-overlooked relationship between sports and periods.
Klineman was first put on birth control pills when she was in high school, a recommendation that came from her doctor and she didn’t dare question. After years of intense side effects, education, and conversation, Klineman is now able to recount her tumultuous experience with an understanding of what really happened to her body.
When Klineman made the decision to go off birth control, she was met with an aggressive case of cystic acne. Eventually, she went back on the pill to control symptoms that occurred during her menstrual cycle. With her eyes set on a Team USA spot, Klineman was secretly struggling to gain control of her body and self-esteem.
“You can only handle these kinds of symptoms for so long. I really just had low confidence and I didn’t know how to fix it. I didn’t have the right resources,” Klineman recalls.
After scouting out advice from doctors, she faced a shocking revelation. A doctor told her, “You know, there’s a huge link between birth control pills and bone injuries.” As an athlete who suffered from various bone bruises over the course of being on the pill, Klineman couldn’t believe that she didn’t know about this side effect.
It’s unfortunately not surprising that Klineman was unaware of the potentially hazardous side effects of birth control. Menstrual health is still taboo to discuss in the sports world, leaving a lot of female athletes without access to adequate women’s health information. Women in competitive sports are feeling the pressure to look good and feel good, all while having consistently stellar performances and keeping their hormones under control. Klineman was certainly carrying the weight of that pressure on her shoulders. That is, until her “fairy godmother” stepped in.
Dr. Georgie Bruinvels may not come with wings and a wand, but she does come with a breadth of knowledge on female physiology that helped Klineman gain autonomy over her menstrual health. As it turns out, nutrition was a critical part of her treatment. Women need different nutrients at each point in their cycle, and having a regimented diet that varies by week is exactly the cure Klineman was looking for.
In a culture that prioritizes men’s science, there is still a lot to be discovered about female bodies and the way birth control affects them. With this newfound information at her disposal, Klineman is now emboldening women to share their menstrual health experiences, do their research, and ultimately feel comfortable talking about hormones and periods.
“For me, it’s really empowering to learn about my health, to figure out how I treat this from the cause and from the root of the problem, and not just cover up the symptoms with these harsh medications. I feel really passionate about it because I know how much this has affected me, and affected my confidence in the past,” Klineman said.
"My New Favorite Olympian" is the third season of the Sports Uncovered podcast from NBC Sports. New episodes drop every Wednesday and will introduce you to the most inspiring members of Team USA and the issues they champion. The series is hosted by Olympic trailblazer Ibtihaj Muhammad and NBCLX storyteller Ngozi Ekeledo.