Retirement And Depression

Cathy Freeman now faces a life without athletics.

Please watch Cathy closely
FRIENDS and associates have been urged to keep a caring watch over Cathy Freeman in the days and even years to come after her retirement from the track yesterday.

Having achieved such monumental heights, the risk of a rebound just as far reaching into depression are a real threat to Freeman, just as they proved to be to her mentor Raelene Boyle and friend Darren Clark who both experienced clinical depression several years after they quit.

The International Olympic Committee recognises it, so do those charged with developing such elite sports stars.

Michael Martin, co-ordinator of a staff of eight sports psychologists at the NSW Institute of Sport, deals with the issue of the sporting blues.

“The comment I’m interested in was something I heard Cathy say like, ‘It’s never going to be the same, it’s going to be hard’,” Martin said.

"I would imagine that getting the Olympic silver in '96 and having that very intense four years where she won the world championship in '97 and again in '99, always very much focused on the track towards 2000, then to have the Olympics in your own country and be everything she was there, how could you replicate that?

"I understand that. I look at people in public life and think John Howard and even George Bush have never scaled those heights.

"I know that making transition from that level, no matter what sport you’re in, is difficult. But it’s your ability to put the tools into action that made you an elite athlete.

"I don’t know what else Cathy has going in her life, but I know she has a great skill-set that is translateable across into another career.

“I don’t know what that career is and I don’t know whether she knows what that is, but I think that’s important, that it’s not all gloom and doom.”

Freeman gave an insight into her own frame of mind when she wrote a column for London’s Daily Telegraph of her decision to retire: "When you have done something nearly all your life, the ending of the relationship becomes almost unreal. I’m sad but it had to be.

“I don’t think anybody, certainly not myself, realised what a toll Sydney took on me. It was wonderful, marvellous, the pinnacle of my career. But it was also incredibly traumatic. More traumatic than I allowed myself to feel at the time and slowly but surely I have come to realise that I could not go through all that again.”

Never beaten Herb Elliott, who is with Marjorie Jackson, Betty Cuthbert and Freeman considered to be Australia’s greatest athlete, believes she will not be among the unfortunates who struggle to cope in the afterlife of elite sport.

“Certainly the IOC was showing a lot of concern for that kind of possible depression after the 2000 Games because there were so many athletes who were preparing themselves for those Games and who were going to retire,” said Elliott. "I wouldn’t want the public to think that everybody who retires gets depressed. Only a small number do.

"Whether Cathy is one of those I would very much doubt. She has an innate intelligence about her, much bigger than common sense. It’s almost a deep knowledge of herself. I think that somehow that will help her manage the situation better than most.

“Whatever services are available to help athletes who get into tough situations I’m sure are available to Cathy. There are enough people around her to recognise the signs.”

Chris Giannopoulos, her business manager at International Management Group, acknowledged: "It’s going to be an interesting phase of her life.

There’s a couple of things that probably hold her in good stead, one being she’s never been a person who craved the limelight so she won’t miss that part of it so much.

"She’ll miss running because she loved that, but at the same time she’s been out of it for a few years now so she’s had a bit of time to adjust to it.

“I think the biggest issue for her is to work out what she wants to do with herself. She’s 30 years of age and has plenty to offer.”

Is Cathy Freeman our greatest ever athlete? Click here to send us your feedback


Good Question …
Across ALL of the Austrailian sporting landscape what do CF forum members think - is Cathy the greatest Austrailian Sportsperson ever? Or maybe it’s some one else?

How do you answer that question.

Like all countries Australia has had its fair share of champions.

Cathy is among them. But here is a quick list

Cathy Freeman
Raelene Boyle
Dawn Fraser
Ian Thorpe
Rob De Castella
Ron Clarke
John Landy
Don Bradman

  • many more.

My personal favourites

David Boon - Cricketer and record holder for most beer cans consumed from Sydney to London
David Foster - Holder of over 1000 world titles in wood chopping

Cathy has to be up there, and I think she was the best track & field athlete in the 90’s for Australia

I would add Jane Gould - for a period of time the fastest women’s swimmer on earth.

Shane Gould (I think)

Yes John Conrad plus many more.

I think the post-compeition depression is a very serious reality for many athletes though. It doens’t seem to be so much of a problem in the US because most athletes don’t begin track and field until HS, and even then, it’s often only 3-6 months per year; so they don’t become full-time track and field athletes until college. Whereas in many (most?) other parts of the World, athletes begin training around 10-11-12 years old. track is their life, it’s all they know. They choose a college, not for what major it has, but for what coach it has, or what track and field opportunities it provides them with.

So what happens to these athletes when they retire? Many/most do not have an athletic federation that will provide them with sport psychologists. Many do not have enough of their own money to afford sport psychologists. Have any of you worked with athletes in this situation? What did you do to help?

[QUOTE]Originally posted by A&E

Good post A&E. This is an issue of real concern, as you’ve highlighted, and I think it’s one of those taboos the “system” doesn’t like to talk about usually. All those alcoholics you hear about in the former Soviet Union, some truly great athletes such as Kuts not to mention a few victims in Kenya (Henry Rono and Yobes Ondieki have struggled with the booze in the past). I’m not saying it’s a high percentage of champions who struggle, but I think it’s an area which needs to be taken seriously. I think some coaches can fall into depression too without even putting a name to it.

Let’s just not look at the one’s who make it to be the best, what about those that don’t? What about those that dedicated their lives and sacrificed alot and still didn’t make it?

I think they can fall into depression, if not more than the world champion, simply b/c they may have worked just as hard if not harder but b/c they weren’t as talented or gifted or had as much resources (ie, good coach, money, etc) they fall into a feeling of, “I have put so much time and effort into the sport & what has it gotten me?”

just something to think about.

Originally posted by Vito
just something to think about. [/b]

Vito, you are right. Definitely. I know a few people who were just club runners who were so sad when they finally called it a day, feeling unfulfilled or incomplete even though they had trained harder often than those who went to the Olympics.

The lesson sometimes is it’s not how hard you train, but how you train… hard! Then again, as you write, talent isn’t given to all of us. Certainly not to me anway.

A big part of avoiding or minimising the impact of depression though has to do with not thinking that being an athlete is what you “are”. It’s part of what you “do”. But what “you” are is a multi-faceted individual with all kind of potential.

That’s also tied up with not holding yourself up for judgement as a person against your latest result. You are not the result, the result is not you - be it a victory or a dismal defeat.

We are all of us bigger, better and more important than our work. Sometimes though people get the blues, sometimes people can get brain chemical imbalances, and it must be hard to accept for most athletes that after the cheering stops they will not experience such euphoric heights again.

It is important for those reasons to develop interests away from your sport, especially things that you can flow straight into the moment you depart the arena: career, hobby, whatever.

Good pionts KitKat
That’s why many go into related fields to ease the transition from major sporting activity - sports marketing, business, coaching etc.

One other point just mentioned briefly there - alcoholism - currently back in the news in the UK for the George Best stories - but it is a MAJOR problem among many retired athletes and I personally think underestimated as many are too embarassed to talk about it … comments?

Jim Stynes anyone ? (…for his charity work etc.)?

Not to mention some great athletes who had problems even during their careers (Yuri Sedykh et al.)

I think the pressure that the fans place on elite athletes to perform @ peak level (all the time)is sometimes overwhelming. Combine that the pressure of now having to be a role model (particularly if u are descendant of a race or nationality that is seen as disadvantaged or wronged in someway) the athlete often times forgets for whom or why they were competing. Though I dont know Cathy…I believe she just she just succombed to the pressures of those who expected her to “transend” the sport and make a name for her peoples cause rather than just enjoy being and athlete for herself.

Fair point.
Cathy Freeman has had more than her fair share of stresses off the track and in her personal life, and I’m sure these have been tough on her.
I wish her the very best.

The real problem here is that too many athletes live for their sport, for their physical selves, and nothing else. They do not understand that God made them for things other than playing football or running track, and that they can find fulfillment even if the sport is not a part of everyday life anymore.

But it’s hard for everyone. I admit that I miss swimming greatly as I am recovering from knee surgery.

Michael Jordan is a perfect example. The poor man is desperately unhappy. He really had no idea what to do with himself after leaving basketball in 1998. This led to what, in my opinion, was an ill-considered comeback that amounted to little.

Again whos to say just because u cant perform at the level u used to be…u have to give up what u enjoy. As u get older u probably want be able to perform sex @ the same level …so does that mean u have to give it up. I think it is more important that athletes remember why they compete in a particular sport and keep it as a priority and not let it be clouded by other peoples expectations.
off topic
I think track and field is one sport that needs to try keep more of its senior performers more involved in the sport to continue its development and appeal to a larger cross section of fans. In no other sport do they do as good a job @ banning, alienating, discreditiing, and prematurely forces athletes out of the sport (due to various stresses) as track and field

This is a good thread. About 2 months ago I was sitting alone on the hood of my car after practice thinking to myself, “what’s life going to be like the moment I walk away from this sport competitively?”.

When I was thinking those thoughts I immediately had an overwhelming feeling of sadness and disappointment. Also I could understand why a tough guy like Brett Favre could cry on TV regarding his first round of retirement.

This life we chose to live as sportsmen/women is tough all around and I’m constantly learning new things as I go along and this is one of them. I had no idea that a pursuit of something so trivial as running fast could turn into a full blown marriage! And to add insult to injury, irrespective off all the effort you put into it, there are ZERO guarantees that it would work out in your favor.

In the end, if I can ever run world class times or not I can at least collect on the fact that running has kept me so young and healthy. Because in the end, that’s all that matters anyway (that and family): Your wealth is your health!

It depends on what you do about it. I was disappointed with my career as an athlete but did far better as a coach- and then the coaching career crashed and I had to move on to something else- or, in my case, a number of “elses”. Each stage can replace the one before but you have to let go.

Interesting, and also, John Smith has many times expressed the same sentiments in regards to his track career. He stated that he gets his drive to help others because he never got to go as far as he wanted as a professional sprinter.

He went a very long way but getting injured before Munich kept him from getting the 400m Gold medal IMO. If the principle discussed applies, there are a lot of athletes these days who are grateful he didn’t!

Cathy is now married to Jamie Murch. I bet that’s pretty depressing! :smiley: