Courtesy: Kate Mortell, MS
In 1948, Marie Corridon Mortell swam a leg on the winning USA Women’s 4x100m freestyle event in London, England. Following in my mother’s footsteps, I also became a competitive swimmer, and inherited the Olympic gold medal she won. With great coaching, I began competing on the national level at fifteen years old. I went on to achieve sixteen NCAA All American awards representing the University of Miami as well as participating in the 1984 Olympic Trials.
From time to time my mother would offer some tips. As I was approaching retirement, she said to me, “There is life after swimming.” After I hung up my suit, I discovered that crossing that bridge would be a long and difficult process. Who am I outside being a successful athlete? Why do I feel depressed, confused, and afraid to step out and join the human race? It became clear that I needed professional guidance to help me address these important questions in order to make it to the other side.
Recently my family and I watched the documentary The Weight of Gold. It featured Olympic Champions who courageously shared their stories of progressing to and competing on the World Stage, all the while silently bearing the weight of untreated mental illness. This included post-Olympic as well as retirement periods. It was most impressive to see such a sincere desire to help other athletes, who could learn from their experiences. This documentary put a crack in the longstanding stigma surrounding Olympians and other elite athletes expressing the need for mental health support.
There is a pressing need for mental health resources to be implemented within a comprehensive training plan. Only from this framework will a healthier experience of achieving personal best performances take place. A simple concept such as “it is okay to not be okay” was proposed as a tool in finding wholeness. Discovering one’s own terms for competing and when the time comes, retiring was showcased as perhaps the greatest reward of all.
After watching The Weight of Gold, a spontaneous conversation related to the content broke out among my niece and nephews, all outstanding athletes themselves at different stages. This rippling effect reflected the power of conversation to initiate positive change in sports as well as in our culture at large.
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. 1-800-273-TALK. In crisis: Text HELLO to 741741 (Free, 24/7, Confidential crisis by text)
- Rapkin, B. (2020). The weight of gold. [Documentary]. Podium Pictures.
- Talkspace Online Therapy. 100 % Confidential. www.talkspace.com. 1-800-273-8255.
- The Speedy Foundation. https://www.thespeedyfoundation.org/. For immediate help call 1-800-273-TALK.