A vegan bodybuilder and MP who trained in the Parliament House gym has revealed she started competing after an abusive relationship left her fearing for her life.
Sydney-based Emma Hurst - who represents the Animal Justice Party in the upper house of New South Wales - had to stop training this year after a health crisis that could leave her infertile.
The registered psychologist said she was four years into her 'normal' relationship when her partner started to turn abusive.
The 40-year-old former Animal Liberation campaign manager said she has also endured online abuse and death threats since entering politics, but stays because of her passion for animal rights.
The New South Wales Parliament recently passed provisions banning serious animal abusers from being owning pets, after a push by Ms Hurst and her Animal Justice Party colleagues.
Emma Hurst (pictured) is a vegan bodybuilder and MP who trained in the Parliament House gym
Emma Hurst (pictured) won a bodybuilding competition in 2018 on a fully vegan diet after finding confidence in exercise
She said the signs her long-term relationship was becoming abusive were subtle at first.
'There was a lot of controlling behaviors. Trying to know exactly where I was at every time, wanting to see my text messages, turning up at my house unannounced,' she recalled.
When she left him, the abuse escalated and he would break into her house, turn up at her workplace and threaten to kill himself.
'[One day] my housemate came home and she said to me that I shouldn't leave the apartment unless I've got someone with me,' Ms Hurst said.
'And when I do, I check all the bushes and I check down the sides where the bins are in case he's there, so I can warn you and let you know.'
When she didn't turn up to work on time one morning, Ms Hurst said her colleague nearly called the police, afraid he had killed her.
'It took me a long time to actually realise I was a victim. And I think that's because I really saw myself as a stronger person and him as the weaker person,' she said.
Ms Hurst (pictured) worked as a campaign manager for Animal Liberation for a decade, and is now an MP for the Animal Justice Party in the New South Wales Parliament
SIGNS OF DOMESTIC ABUSE
Controlling behaviour and jealousy, such as wanting to know where you are, what are doing and who you seeing or accusing you of having an affair
Making you feel uncomfortable, afraid or threatened
Making you feel worthless or putting you down, in overt or subtle ways. Embarrassing you so you don't want to go out and see people
Telling you what to wear, how much makeup to put on, wear to go, who to see or what to eat
Stopping you from having access to money, wanting to track your finances, telling you how to spend money or using your money as their own
Stops you from sleeping, creates arguments about small things, locks you in/out of the house, keeps you from getting medical care or eating
Forces you to have sex, or sexual acts you are not comfortable with. Will not use a condom or birth control, makes you dress in a sexual way or forces/stops you from terminating a pregnancy
Scaring or hurting you by being violent, such as any physical violence, punching walls, throwing things, driving dangerously, removing disability aids
Threatening to kill or harm themselves, you, your children, your pets or anyone else
Source: 1800 RESPECT. Please call 1800 RESPECT if you think you or someone else may be experiencing domestic abuse, violence or coercive control
Ms Hurst said she heard stories of women in abusive relationships not being believed by police, stopping her from reporting the abuse until her ex-partner posted a death threat on Instagram.
'I sat out beside the police station many times and then driven off and not gone in,' she said.
'Your last option is to go to the police. And so if I went to them and they didn't believe me, then I had no other options. And so that frightens me.'
In 2014, she finally headed to the station to request an AVO, where she said police looked at the messages he sent her and insisted on pressing charges.
As Ms Hurst went through the court case - after which her abuser was convicted - the then 37-year-old started to train for a half marathon and joined a gym.
'At the gym there was quite a few people that were involved in bodybuilding and one of them actually said to me you won't be able to do it because you're too old and you're vegan, so it's too hard for you,' said Ms Hurst.
'I thought I had to prove them wrong and prove everyone else wrong.'
Ms Hurst (pictured with hens) said she has endured death threats online because of her views and policies
On a vegan diet, she entered her first competition and won three gold medals.
'I really proved that not only can you do this as a vegan, but you can actually do this as a healthy vegan and without depriving yourself or damaging your health just to get up on stage,' she said.
Despite the long hours and 5am starts required as a politician, Ms Hurst continued to train in the 'dodgy' gym at Parliament House every day.
The training helped her manage the stress of the demanding job, including what she said were 'sick' threats of violence from people on social media.
'If I post something that people don't necessarily agree and then you see this whole bombardment of death threats from men,' she said.
'It's also worrying because I think that people who are violent and aggressive towards animals are violent and towards humans.'
MP Emma Hurst (pictured) said she continues to work in politics because she wants to make a difference in the lives of animals
Emma Hurst (pictured at a rally) studied psychology so she could campaign for change around how Australian's see animals
She said recent laws pushed through New South Wales Parliament, such as the ban on breeding dolphins for entertainment and stopping people charged with serious animal cruelty from owning pets, inspire her to continue her work.
Ms Hurst was dealt another blow earlier this year when she suddenly experienced excruciating pain in her stomach.
One night she said she had a few glasses of wine and she was in so much agony she couldn't even drive to the hospital.
'I was too sick to walk or to get outside into a cab. I remember being on the bathroom floor sort of vomiting and then eventually passing out from the pain,' she said.
Ms Husar said she discovered she had endometritis and adenomyosis, conditions which Endometriosis Australia said impacts between 10 - 35 per cent of women.
Ms Hurst (pictured with a cat) was in a relationship that turned so violent her friends feared for her life
WHAT IS ENDOMETRIOSIS AND ADENOMYOSIS?
Adenomyosis occurs when the cells that normally line the uterus also grow in the layer of muscle in the wall of the uterus.
It can cause enlargement of the uterus and heavy periods.
It is only seen in women in their reproductive years because it requires the hormone oestrogen to grow.
It eventually goes away during menopause when oestrogen production drops.
Some symptoms include: heavy periods, painful periods, pain during sex, bleeding between periods and tiredness from the anaemia caused by blood loss.
Endometriosis occurs when tissue from the uterus grows on other internal organs.
More than 830,000 of Australian women suffer with endometriosis, with the disease often starting in teenagers.
Symptoms are variable and this may contribute to the seven to 12-year delay in diagnosis. Symptoms include pelvic pain that puts life on hold around or during a woman's period. It can damage fertility.
Endometriosis most often affects the reproductive organs it is frequently found in the bowel and bladder and has been found in muscle, joints, the lungs and the brain.
Source: Health Direct
In endometritis, endometrial cells grow outside the uterus and in adenomyosis they grow within the muscles of the uterus, often causing excruciating pain and heavy periods.
'My uterus was kind of swollen to nearly twice the size it should be,' said Ms Hurst.
'Because endometriosis is sticky my other organs were getting stuck to my uterus. So my bowel was stuck to my uterus and my ovaries were stuck to the uterus.'
Ms Hurst decided to have surgery on April 26, which she said has helped the pain immensely but could stop her from having children.
'I'm 40, I'm not looking to get pregnant. And so for me, it was sort of a risk I was willing to take because the pain was just so great,' she said.
On the mend, Ms Hurst will be heading back to the musty Parliament gym - this time, to train for a 30-kilometre trail run in September.
'I'm now coming out the other end,' she said.
'I need a new challenge.'
For domestic and family violence or sexual assault counselling call the national 1800 RESPECT hotline 1800 737 732.
Men who have anger, relationship or parenting concerns can contact the Men's Referral Service on 1300 766 491 or the Don't Become That Man hotline on 1300 24 34 13.
Ms Hurst (pictured with a dog) recently underwent a surgery on her uterus to treat endometriosis and adenomyosis, which could leave the 40-year-old infertile
Ms Hurst (pictured with a hen) is preparing for a 30 kilometre trail run this September, after an operation on her uterus