Many people work hard to try to make their dreams come true but few people can truly say that they have reached their highest goals. American swimmer, Allison Schmitt, can. The five-time Olympic medalist shone brightly during the 2012 Summer Games in London and, while the months that followed should have been the happiest time of her life, the star athlete knew something wrong. Unfortunately, she chose to suffer in silence for a long time.
Now, the 24-year-old is open about her emotional struggle and has shared her experience with her fellow elite athletes. During an interview with The Associated Press, the Pennsylvania native explained: “I didn’t like myself. I didn’t like that I was feeling like that. I thought if I suppressed it, it would go away. But it was something where I needed help from outside sources.”
At the London Games, Schmitt may have been overshadowed by the media circus surrounding Michael Phelps but she managed to pull off one of the best performances of the Olympics. She won a gold medal in the 200-meter freestyle, silver in the 400 meter race, swam in all all three relays and helped Team USA take home the gold in the 4×100 free and 4×100 medley as well as the bronze in the 4×200 free. She left little doubt that she was among the best of the best in the world.
Life After the Olympics
After returning home, Schmitt earned a degree in psychology from the University of Georgia but began to struggle in the pool. She failed to qualify for the teams that would compete in both the 2013 and 2015 world championships. “I don’t want to say it was (a lack of) confidence at the pool,” Schmitt said. “It was more about the confidence in myself.”
Soon, she began to have problems coping in her regular life but didn’t want to vocalize her pain. “I know a lot of athletes who are very strong, who have a strong will, a strong passion,” Schmitt said. “They don’t really like to show their other side, their emotional side. That’s something very prevalent in athletes. That’s something in the future I would like to work on, to let them know it’s OK not to be OK.”
The recent suicide of a younger cousin has been difficult for Schmitt who has learned that people can do a great job of hiding their depression, regardless of how much they are suffering. “Things are filtered on Instagram and social media or even walking around with a smile on your face, and it’s filtering out how you really feel,” she said. “After a few years, I’m finally being able to realize that.”
As for her own difficulties, she’s still trying to understand where things went wrong. “Maybe the post-Olympic blues started it, and it just kept crashing down from there,” Schmitt said. “Or maybe it was not doing as well as I wanted to do (after the Olympics). I don’t know what triggered it. I would like to work on that and figure out what triggered it.”
Schmitt, who is known for her generosity, finds it difficult to reach out to others in times of need. “It’s hard for me to open up and hard for me to accept the fact that if I need help, I need to go ask for help,” she said. “I’d much rather be helping someone else.”
Since Schmitt did not qualify to compete at the world championships, she will be at the Pan American Games and her coach, Bob Bowman, says that she’s starting to look more like the athlete who put in such a dominating performance at the Olympics in 2012. “I’m not concerned at all,” Bowman said. “I have no doubt she can get back to where she once was.”
While she didn’t go into specifics about her diagnosis, being aware of her emotions and having support around her will definitely give her a better chance at coping with whatever difficulties she’s facing. It was brave of her to share her unique story since it may help other elite athletes who are silently struggling with similar issues.