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Emily Overholt, smiling after a raceTHE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Olympian Overholt’s “huge sense of relief” in opening up about mental health

It was just over a year ago that Olympic and world medallist swimmer Emily Overholt shared publicly her battle with depression.

Just weeks after returning home from Rio 2016 with a bronze medal, she spent two months in hospital as she put herself on the road to recovery through a combination of therapies and medication. Overholt recently reflected on her courageous decision to speak about her struggles and the positive impact.

“When it first came out, I had this huge sense of relief. I didn’t have to hide it anymore. I tried to keep it as quiet as possible when I was going through it. So even when I was talking with people, doctors and everyone that was helping me, I still kept it…as little as possible out in the open. So, when I came out and talked about it, I just felt like I could finally put it behind me. I wouldn’t get questions about what I was doing in that year and that kind of thing. So, I think it has been easier now that it’s out.

I had no idea the extent to which it would help people. I mean, I was hoping that it would help people to open up and talk about it. But I didn’t realize how many people. They sent me messages saying that they had gone through similar things and I just didn’t realize how much it would be.”

Overholt returned to full time training a full year after her hospitalization.

“I tried to start swimming again a few times in that year and it just wasn’t right. I wasn’t ready. I don’t think I really wanted to for the right reasons. So, I came back and started training full time in September of 2017. And at that point, I had so many conversations with my coach just…trying to decide how I wanted to do it and if I wanted to do it and eventually, I just I really missed it and I missed all the fun of it… So that’s really what motivated me to get back in the pool.”

Four swimmers posing with medals

Emily Overholt, Taylor Ruck, Kayla Sanchez, and Penny Oleksiak show off their bronze medals from the women’s 4x200m freestyle relay on Thursday July 25, 2019 at the FINA World Championships in Gwangju, South Korea. (Joseph Kleindl/Swimming Canada)

Since her comeback, Overholt has competed at the biggest events of the past two years, the 2018 Pan Pacific Championships and the 2019 FINA World Championships, winning bronze with the women’s 4x200m freestyle relay at the latter, as she prepares to make a return to ­Olympic water at Tokyo 2020.

But just like everyone across the country, Overholt has had to adjust to living through a pandemic.

“This is a very difficult situation and not how I planned to prepare for the Tokyo Olympics. That being said, I’m trying to keep things in perspective. My family and friends are safe which is the most important thing, and I’m doing my best to stay active and be ready to train when it is safe to do so.

Even though this is a very unique situation, I’m able to use what I learned in past experiences to help me navigate these uncertain times. For example, I’ve been trying to focus on what I can control, like my daily exercise and activities. I’m also lucky to have an amazing group of people supporting me, so I have been staying socially connected while physically distanced. I’ve learned that things rarely go as planned, so I have accepted the changes and I have my sights set on Tokyo 2021.”