Life

Gladiator ‘Fire’ Montell Douglas: Being hospitalised with excruciating period pain was a ‘wake-up call’

The former Olympic athletes talks to Lisa Salmon about her struggles with terrible period pain – and why it’s ok to seek support.

Montell Douglas is urging anyone suffering with their periods to seek support
Montell Douglas Montell Douglas is urging anyone suffering with their periods to seek support (Oliver Dixon/Oliver Dixon)

As Fire in TV’s Gladiators, Montell Douglas is used to facing formidable opponents. But the former Olympic sprinter and bobsledder has yet to meet a foe as challenging as her own body.

Douglas, 38, suffers from extremely heavy and painful periods, which have even landed her in hospital.

Now, the athlete-turned-Gladiator – who made history as the first British woman to compete in different sports at both the Summer and Winter Olympics for Team GB – is talking about her experiences to encourage other women with the same problem to seek support.

New research from Bupa Health Clinics found 75% of women who menstruate say they suffer from painful, heavy or irregular periods. What’s more, 84% of these say it has a negative impact on their life, with 72% admitting it affects their mental health.

Yet despite this, three in 10 (30%) have never discussed their symptoms with a doctor, with even more (40%) reasoning it was just a ‘normal’ part of being a woman.


For many years, Douglas thought the monthly misery she was experiencing was normal, and simply something she had to put up with.

“I didn’t really moan about it, I didn’t really speak about it a lot,” London-born Douglas recalls. “I thought it was something that maybe you just had to get on with and deal with.”

When she was younger, her periods lasted a full seven days, with a heavy flow for four or five days, accompanied by severe pain. The pain was so bad she sometimes had to miss training sessions, particularly when she was a sprinter.

“Sometimes I just wouldn’t make training, because it would take me an extra hour to get ready because I’d have waves of intense pain that would stop me for a few minutes, and that just ended up taking so long, I’d be in so much pain. And when I had really intense running sessions, it would just not be a great idea to even partake in them,” she says.

Douglas also suffered from lax ligaments during her period, which could have led to injuries. “I had to wear this special belt every month, because my pelvis would be so wobbly,” she explains. “When you’re sprinting at a high level, you can lose your stability, and you can’t afford to do that because you can get injured very easily, just because your body is reacting to the hormones.”


Despite all of this, Douglas is a former British record holder for the 100 metres, in which she competed at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, before changing disciplines and taking up bobsleigh in 2016, for which she represented Team GB at the 2022 Winter Olympics.

“Luckily” her period didn’t fall during her Olympic competitions, she recalls, pointing out that although some female athletes will carry on taking the contraceptive pill without a break to delay having a period when competing, she has never done that.

“I really didn’t want to have to delay it and change my cycle – that was just a personal preference,” she says. “We get periods every month and you can’t keep doing that for the whole season – I can’t have six months of just constant delaying. At some point, I was going to have to race while I was on my period, so I had to find other ways to manage it.”

That management was with strong prescribed painkillers, but she needed to take them well in advance in order for them to be effective. A few years ago, after taking them too late, Douglas ended up in hospital.

“That hospitalisation for me was a kind of wake-up call,” she says. “My body just started convulsing, and I was almost passing out, because the pain was so intense.

“I was overheating because of the hormones – my body couldn’t control its temperature, and that in turn made me dehydrated. The pain was in waves, coming in like contractions.”

Douglas called an ambulance herself, and was put on a drip in hospital. As a result of the experience, she had contraceptive implants put in, and says they’ve made a big difference to the severity of her period pain.

“Since then, it’s been much more manageable in terms of the pain, and it just gave me some confidence in that when it comes, I’m not going to be at its beck and call. It’s something I can manage, rather than it managing me.”

Montell Douglas has teamed up with Bupa
Montell Douglas Montell Douglas has teamed up with Bupa (Oliver Dixon/Oliver Dixon)

She has now teamed up with Bupa Health Clinic on the launch of their ‘Period Plan’ service – which offers year-long bespoke healthcare plans for people suffering with heavy, painful and irregular periods. This includes a 45-minute GP appointment, personalised treatment options, follow-up consultations and access to a 24/7 helpline.

“Trust your gut – your feelings are valid. Don’t be afraid to say, ‘I’m struggling and I want to find out if there’s something I can do’, and then seek that help where you can,” says Douglas, who encourages anyone suffering to reach out for support. “Trust your feelings that what you’re experiencing may or may not be the norm for other people, but you won’t know until you ask.”

Managing her own period pain has meant Douglas has been able to really throw herself into her role as Fire in Gladiators – the popular Nineties show was recently rebooted on BBC One.

“I’ve absolutely loved it,” she declares. “I’d arguably say it’s been the best thing I’ve ever done, and going to two Games and doing two sports, I’ve had a breadth of experiences.

“There’s nothing that can compare to appearing at the highest level of your sport in the Olympics, but Gladiators is just so different. It’s so nice to engage with the public and hear the stories about how everyone has responded well to the show.”

She says the the production, crew and cast members are like a “really lovely family”, adding: “It’s been an incredible experience – I can’t shout about it enough. I’ve genuinely really loved every minute of it, to the point where it’s like you miss it when it’s not there, and you can’t wait to go back into it.

“It translated so well on the screen for everyone – it’s had such a good response, and we’re really pleased about what we’ve been able to create.”

Montell Douglas is supporting the new Bupa Health Clinics Period Plan for women suffering from painful, heavy and irregular periods. For more information, visit bupa.co.uk/health/payg/period-plan