Clara Hughes is the only Canadian to win Olympic medals in both Winter and Summer Olympics, and the first Olympian to win multiple medals in both seasons. She is also a passionate spokesperson for mental health awareness. In her book Open Heart, Open Mind, Clara candidly discusses her struggles with depression throughout her life. Taking up speedskating at age 16 gave Clara a way to channel the anger and frustration she felt from living in an alcoholic household into something positive and productive. After she reached the pinnacle of accomplishment of both speed skating and cycling during the next decade, she realized that her hard work (and extra-curricular partying) was masking a deep and unacknowledged depression. Since retiring from professional sport, she has shared her inspiring journey toward mindfulness.
Unfortunately, it was not difficult to find other memoirs from athletes who also struggle with mental health issues. The intense pressures of performing at such a high level can bring anxiety and depression which can be exacerbated by performance related injuries. The following books can give us some insight to the unique challenges faced by elite athletes and also inspire us with their tales of incredible courage.
In the Water They Can’t See You Cry : a memoir by Amanda Beard with Rebecca Paley
“In 1996, at 14, swimmer Amanda Beard first competed in the Olympics. She won three medals. There followed three more Olympics, more medals, a high-profile modeling career, international celebrity status. But as Beard reveals in this straight-shooting autobiography, her life wasn’t as glorious as it was supposed to be. Dogged by feelings of inadequacy and undiagnosed depression, psychologically crippled by self-inflicted torture (bulimia, drugs, alcohol, cutting herself) even as she reached heights most young female athletes could only dream of, she feared she was on an endless downward spiral.” publisher.
The Crazy Game : how I survived in the crease and beyond by Clint Malarchuk with Dan Robson.
“This book takes you deep into the troubled mind of Clint Malarchuk, the former NHL goaltender for the Quebec Nordiques, Washington Capitals and Buffalo Sabres. Even as a boy, Malarchuk faced such deep anxiety that he missed school and acted out at school and with his friends. His OCD changed the way he trained, and he was almost always the last player off the ice. When his throat was slashed during a collision in the crease, Malarchuk nearly died on the ice. Forever changed, he struggled deeply with depression and a dependence on alcohol, which nearly cost him his life and left a bullet in his head.” publisher.
Fast Girl : a life spent running from madness by Suzy Favor Hamilton.
“The former middle distance Olympic runner and high-end escort speaks out for the first time about her battle with mental illness, and how mania controlled and compelled her in competition, but also in life. An inspiring story of a woman’s struggle to outrun her demons and finally find peace. Suzy Favor Hamilton is an American former middle distance runner. She competed in the 1992, 1996, and 2000 Summer Olympics.” publisher.
The Secret Race : inside the hidden world of the Tour de France : doping, cover-ups, and winning at all costs by Tyler Hamilton and Daniel Coyle.
“Over the course of two years, Coyle conducted more than two hundred hours of interviews with former Olympic gold medalist Tyler Hamilton and spoke candidly with numerous teammates, rivals, and friends. For the first time ever, Hamilton recounts his own battle with clinical depression, speaks frankly about the agonizing choices that go along with the decision to compete at a world-class level, and tells the story of his complicated relationship with Lance Armstrong. A journey into the heart of a never-before-seen world, The Secret Race is a riveting, courageous act of witness from a man who is as determined to reveal the hard truth about his sport as he once was to win the Tour de France.” publisher.
Getting a Grip : on my body, my mind, my self by Monica Seles.
The youngest winner in French Open history, racking up eight Grand Slam titles, former tennis champion Monica Seles relates her struggles with binge-eating and depression and the peace and balance she had been searching for after an excruciating injury forced her on the sidelines. publisher.