Cameron Van Der Burgh: Sports Helped Me Beat ADHD

Olympic gold-medal swimmer Cameron van der Burgh says he developed a love of sports after being diagnosed with ADHD.

“I was hyperactive as a kid. I always had a lot of energy and battled to pay attention in class, or focus on my homework. I was diagnosed with ADHD and put on Ritalin.”

What is ADHD?

ADHD is a disorder characterized by excessive activity, problems paying attention and difficulty controlling one’s behavior. Ritalin is the most common form of treatment. According to Dr George M. Kapalka of the Department of Psychological Counselling at Monmouth University, in the US, it’s the most frequently diagnosed childhood disorder and is more prevalent in males than in females. More than half of the individuals diagnosed with ADHD will continue to exhibit the full range of ADHD symptoms as adults, most of whom are also male.

Generally, young boys who suffer from ADHD will display difficulties with self-control, aggression and defiance towards those in authority. In addition, impulsive tendencies, limited attention spans, disorganization, difficulties completing tasks and forgetfulness can also manifest. Normal academic skills and social adjustment are usually problematic too. If not treated properly, the symptoms associated with ADHD in boys can be problematic throughout adulthood as well.

What is Ritalin?

According to the Center for Substance Abuse Research at the University of Maryland, Ritalin or methylphenidate is an amphetamine-like central nervous system stimulant used to treat ADHD in children, adolescents and adults. This is a scheduled medication, which needs to be prescribed and is carefully controlled.

However, according to research out of the University of Utah, Ritalin has been likened to cocaine. This is because, like cocaine, this powerful stimulant increases alertness and productivity. They have a similar chemical structure, and both increase dopamine levels in the brain. This is done through blocking a dopamine transporter protein, which normally takes up dopamine from the synapse. When used for the purpose for which it has been designed, the results have been positive. Side effects have been reported, but specialists and parents of ADHD sufferers often believe the benefits outweigh these. Click here to find out more about this drug and its uses.

How did Cameron respond to it?

“Unfortunately, Ritalin had a negative effect on me. It took away my personality. I remember coming home after school and sitting on the couch, staring out the window for hours. I wouldn’t even watch TV. I had no motivation to do anything.

“Eventually my mom said, ‘Enough is enough!’, and threw the pills away – she wanted her old son back. Instead of using Ritalin to treat my ADHD, she insisted that I take up a sport every day of the week.

“The change was incredible; I had an outlet for my energy and it improved my ability to focus on schoolwork. From that day on, sports became a part of my life. I discovered my love of swimming, and embarked on my career as a professional athlete. I can’t imagine how different my life would be if my mom hadn’t made the decision to treat my ADHD with exercise.” Cameron says participating in sport has taught him to live a healthy lifestyle, take ownership of his success and be disciplined. “To me, being healthy means having the freedom to do what you want to do. You aren’t limited, or held back, by any physical inability.”

He adds: “Eating healthily and exercising should be a habit. If you practice it regularly, you will soon find you don’t want to go back to a life without it.”

Worried about your child or a family member possibly suffering from this condition? Click here to find out more about ADHD and how it can be managed or treated.