Australian swimming sensation Ian Thorpe specialized in free style but also competed in backstroke and individual medley. Born in 1982, he first represented Australia at the age of 14, which made him the youngest male ever to represent Australia. It was 1997 Pan-Pacific meet when he finished second in the 400 freestyle. “At the 1998 World Championships he won both the 200 and 400 freestyle, and was the media darling of Australia going into the Sydney 2000 Olympics. He won three gold medals at the 2000 Olympic Games, but his only individual title was in the 400 free, as he finished second in the 200 freestyle. With three relay medals, he won five Olympic medals at the Sydney Games. At the 2001 World Championships, he won the 200, 400 and 800 metre freestyle events, all in world record times, and also swam on three winning relay teams, becoming the first person to win six gold medals at a single World Championship. At the 2002 Pan-Pacific meet, Thorpe won five titles â three individual in the 100, 200, and 400 freestyles, and two relay championships. He has set 13 individual world records (through 2006). Although slightly overshadowed by [Michael Phelps], Thorpe won four more Olympic medals at the 2004 Athens Olympics, with golds in the 200 and 400 metre freestyles.” “Thorpe was the first person to have been named Swimming World Swimmer of the Year four times, and was the Australian Swimmer of the Year from 1999 to 2003.”
“I am someone who has struggled with mental health issues since I was a teen,” Thorpe said in the Huffington Post Australia piece. “From the outside, many would not see my pain nor be able to relate to the sometimes-daily struggle I was facing” (The Guardian).
“The 33-year-old has said previously that he kept the problem secret from his loved ones”, as he has been too embarrassed to tell them, “but is now part of Young Minds Matter, a campaign designed to raise awareness of children’s mental health issues backed by Prince William’s wife Kate Middleton.”
In 2014 a news came out that “Five-time Olympic gold medallist Ian Thorpe has been admitted to rehabilitation for depression treatment, his manager James Erskine confirmed on Monday. Thorpe was found lost and confused early on Monday morning in the Sydney street where his parents live, with residents having called police after the 31-year-old tried to get into a car which he mistakenly thought belonged to a friend.
“He became disorientated and he tried to get into what he thought was a friend’s car, but it wasn’t his friend’s car at all,” Erskine told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. “Obviously someone saw it, or the owner of the car saw it, called the police and they came and realised it was Ian Thorpe.”
Thorpe was then taken to Bankstown Hospital in an ambulance.
“There was no alcohol involved. He hadn’t been drinking or anything like that,” Erskine said. “The hospital then suggested – or more than suggested, I think – that he should go into rehab for depression and that’s what’s happened this afternoon.”
Erskine says Thorpe had taken painkillers for a shoulder operation he had last week and also had antidepressants in his system” (The Telegraph).
In His Own Words
In his autobiography This is Me Thorpe describes the troubled path he trod from childhood through to his career. Edited excerpts are as follows:
Even when I was a child I knew I was different. I didn’t have words then to describe what it was, but there were times I’d feel sad for no apparent reason.
By the time I was in my mid-teens, those sad periods were getting more frequent and longer, but I just tried to ignore them and get on with what I was supposed to be doing, which was plenty.
It’s taken me a long time to accept that being depressed wasn’t my fault and rising above it is actually a strength of character. Just as I believe sexuality to be a genetic disposition, so too is depression. It was something that I would have had to deal with whether I was a swimmer or not.
I was 19 when I finally decided to try to get some answers. The Sydney Olympics had come and gone, I’d moved out of home and had begun my initial preparations for Athens, which was still three years away, but the illness had become crushing and I knew I needed to seek out other ways of managing it.
The freedom of moving out of home had given me space, but it also meant I was more alone with my thoughts than ever before. And my success in the pool only compounded the misgivings: I should be feeling great; happy and invincible. Instead, there were nights when I would contemplate ending it all.
A clandestine visit to my doctor had provided some help, including medication, but little in the way of explanation. If anything, it isolated me even more because I felt as if I now had a secret and no one to share it with.
“NUMBING THE PAIN
I suppose it was inevitable that I’d turn to other, artificial ways of managing my feelings, and I found alcohol. Ironically I was never really a drinker, hating my first sip of champagne at a family wedding where I recall agreeing with Mum, a lifetime teetotaller, why anyone would want to drink something that tasted awful. There wasn’t much room for it through my teens, either; my training schedule was too full to party with my contemporaries.
The more I tried it, though, the more I found it suppressed my feelings. And a few years later, when my black periods grew more frequent, I found that the more I drank, the better I felt – or rather, the less bad I felt, although that only lasted until I woke up the next morning to go to training. My poison was always red wine, at times drunk in quantities that now seem unbelievable.
There were occasions when I would have friends over for dinner, drink moderately through the meal, enough to suppress my thoughts, then wait until my guests had left before opening another bottle and getting plastered. It was the only way I could get to sleep. It didn’t happen every night, but there were numerous occasions, particularly between 2002 and 2004 as I trained to defend my Olympic titles in Athens, that I abused myself this way – always alone and in a mist of disgrace. I know I never did anything really bad when I was under the influence, but there are definitely nights that I regret.
My illness was so severe that, at times, I considered suicide. My blackest periods would often last a month, and it was during those times that I thought about “it” happening. I even considered specific places or a specific way to kill myself, but then always baulked, realising how ridiculous it was. Could I have killed myself? Looking back, I don’t think so, but there were days in my life that, even now, make me shudder.
My worst moment came when I was playing by the rules, so to speak – getting out of the house, communicating with friends and family and not drinking – but I wasn’t getting any joy out of even the simplest things that used to make me happy, like being with my dogs or cooking. All of a sudden the suicide notes in my head started to feel rational. I needed help.”(The Courier Mail, 2014)
Michael Phelps is a American retired competitive swimmer who bagged 28 Olympic medals. he also holds an all -time record of 23 Olympic gold medals. Phelps revealed that after every Olympics he would suffer from a spell of depression. He first experienced this spell in 2004. A pattern of emotions “that just wasn’t right” engulfed him at “a certain time during every year,” around the beginning of October or November. Phelps mentioned that his struggle became worse after 2012 Olympics games. “I didn’t want to be in the sport anymore … I didn’t want to be alive anymore,” he recalled. He used to spend days in his room, not eating, consumed by his depression.He also admits of having suicidal thoughts.
Later Phelps underwent treatment and now is at ease with his emotions.
The world of sports is highly demanded not only in terms of physical strength but also mental stamina. The rigorous traing schedules, challenging and competitive environment, high expectaions and pressure all add up to the minds of young people who aspire to build career in sports. Handling both success and failures with equal ease requires the mental preparedness that in most cases these youngsters lack for obvious reasons like tender age, inadequate support system and guidance. Consequently, they fall victims of depression.