Let’s be real for a minute. I watched The Weight of Gold last week and it opened my eyes to the lives of Olympic athletes. The documentary features some of the biggest USA Olympic athletes of the last 20 years, including Michael Phelps, Shaun White, and Lolo Jones. I was somewhat aware of the stressful lifestyle of professional runners, swimmers, and others but the documentary pulls the curtain back on the mental health of professional athletes.
Living the life of a professional athlete appears glamorous and stable for NFL and NBA players, but the reality is drastically different for Olympic athletes. Only the top athletes in their sport make enough money to be set financially. Others work full-time and part-time jobs just to make enough money to pay the bills.
Olympic athletes work 4 years for 1 race or event. They hyper-focus and obsess over 1 thing to the point where sometimes nothing else in their lives is important. Many of the athletes experience depression and struggle with mental health once the Olympics end because they work for so long towards one goal and it suddenly disappears from their lives. The motivation to keep going evaporates. On top of identities being tied into the sport, athletes have insane pressures from sponsors to meet specific time and placement goals to make a living.
As a former competitive runner, I know the build-up of working for 1 event and then feeling a lack of motivation once the season ends. I struggled with my identity when my sport was taken away multiple times from season and career-ending injuries. Athletes feel immense internal and external pressure to perform and there isn’t enough done to help them deal with it.
I’m fortunate that I’ve never experienced the depths and darkness of mental health that some of my teammates and other athletes battle. Mental health isn’t talked about enough among competitive athletes or performers.
If you are struggling with depression or mental health, it is okay to admit it. It is okay to reach out for help. The weight of gold isn’t reserved for the best athletes in the world. It hits everyday athletes, students, and humans like you and me. This year has hit many of us hard, and you don’t need to feel like you can fight it all on your own. You are not weak for battling something that even the strongest humans in the world fight.
You can reach out for counseling if you need help. You can reach out to me if you need someone to talk to or listen. If you are seriously thinking about taking your life, I encourage you to call 800-273-8255.
If you want to gain more insight into the pressure on Olympic athletes, you should watch The Weight of Gold.
I appreciate you.