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Sunday, March 9, 2014

overcoming pressures in life ... what is success .. lessons from Ian Thorpe

At this age, when one looks back ~ nothing much has been achieved.. a rather ordinary life – mundane official life and not much outside….and what is that we chased all through life… there are some who pursue a passion, dare to be different, achieve things – be it on Sports, academic career or financial career – only few to progress to become bigger selves….. most people advise children to aspire for, cherish their ambitions and succeed in a big way !!!!

I had recently posted about the exposition of Martin Crowe who  battled many things in life.  The man known for his brutally honest analysis was diagnosed suffering from follicular lymphoma, underwent chemo, which conditions depressed him more than facing bouncers. He impressively spoke of ‘fear of success and more appropriately the pressure of success’ outweighing personalities.  In an expectant World, basic failing should be viewed as a very acceptable human trait.  What isn't is the lack of courage to get up and try again. Then after a few attempts, a certain amount of learning should kick in and the performance - whatever it is that one is  doing - should improve, and the journey goes on.  To him, it  takes an extraordinary athlete with an exceptional mind to keep producing great feats.

This man (of whom this post is about) outsmarted his competitors, made it big, was known for his interests in fashion, serves as an ambassador for Armani,has his own line of designer jewellery……….in his hay days – he  was one of the most prominent and popular sportspersons of the Nation ~ earned millions, was contracted by sponsors….all  a life which most others would envy.

For sure, his rise was not simply gifted; his success has been attributed to his work ethic, mental strength, powerful kick, ability to accelerate and a physiology suited to the sport he pursued. This led former Australian head coach Don Talbot to label him as "the greatest athlete the world has seen".  ~ but sadly he is in news for wrong reasons as the father of Australian swimming legend Ian Thorpe choked back tears as he revealed his son was getting the help he needed with his medication. Reports state that in a bizarre incident, the five-time Olympic gold medallist was found by police in a disorientated state, sitting in a white Toyota Starlet parked in the driveway of a home near his parents' house in Panania about 3am !


Ian James Thorpe, nicknamed the Thorpedo and Thorpey, is an Australian swimmer who specialised in freestyle, but also competed in backstroke and the individual medley. He has won five Olympic gold medals, the most won by any Australian, and with three gold and two silver medals, was the most successful athlete at the 2000 Summer Olympics. At the 2001 World Aquatics Championships, he became the first person to win six gold medals in one World Championship. In total, Thorpe  won eleven World Championship golds, the third-highest number of any swimmer. 

Thorpe was the first person to have been named ‘Swimmer of the Year’ four times.  His athletic achievements made him one of Australia's most popular athletes, and he was recognised as the Young Australian of the Year in 2000.

He announced his retirement in November 2006, citing waning motivation. From early 2011, there was much speculation about Thorpe's return to swimming, fuelled by people claiming to have seen him training. These speculations were finally substantiated when Thorpe called a press conference on 2 February 2011, where he spoke of his return to swimming after four years away from the pool, with the aim of competing in the London Olympic Games.  Thorpe competed at Australia's Olympic Trials in 2012, but failed to make the team and later complicated with  a shoulder injury.

After long successful story, comes the climax of Thorpe admitting  that he had at times considered suicide and confessed to drinking huge quantities of alcohol to deal with his crippling depression~ and he is not alone…… reports suggest that almost twice as many Australians die from suicide each year than die in traffic accidents. Countless more struggle daily with their self-medication and prescribed treatment for mental illness. Sure the mental illness is taking its toll even as people speak of physical health care.  Often we hear that in African countries like Eritrea, Somalia, Ethiopia children are dying of malnutrition or that health facilities are not quite up to the mark in Asian countries; there is also the fact that mental illness is prevalent in advanced countries.  At rehab centres, it is a mixture of pain, painkillers, depression and anti-depressants as people struggle to cope with increasing pressure.  For Hoffman, it might have been the split from his partner or a dud concoction of painkillers and smack ~ but superheroes pathetically are also human beings !!

For long people have held their stars ‘literally on the sky’ dreaming them to be out of reach all the time… at their peak, followers copied every action of theirs as some swooned ostentatiously … Thorpe had years of supremacy until overshadowed by the greatest swimmer of all time — Michael Phelps, 32 months his junior. Golds kept smiling as he competed ~ now at Sydney the same man was found wandering, disoriented and cognitively diminished, near his parents’ house, later admitted to a rehabilitation clinic. Depression can do that to one. In fact, it can do much more, leaving one on the very edge, staring at the bottomless hole and wondering if a final plunge would erase all the misery. When a star of his value, talks about depression, the media listens, and so do we. But there might be tens of thousands of others in every sport in every country in the world suffering in the emotional wilderness into which the illness casts the star. The soul-shattering experiences of the Thorpes of the sporting world must be understood in their context because they throw light on a subject that is a taboo at the highest levels of sport.

Be it anybody – mighty and the fame - depression leaves such a huge hole in the soul that not all the love in the world — from family, from friends, from fans — can help fill it. Everything good that comes your way disappears into the void. Be it the top sportperson or high achiever, no superhuman effort could be forthcoming to be well-adjusted once their glory days are behind them. Thorpe had  admitted to suicidal thoughts and alcohol abuse in his book, This is Me (2012) ~ and Flintoff too talked about his alcohol dependency and crippling struggles in a BBC One documentary Freddie Flintoff- these are lonely battles and they have none to slay.

The victory here is different – they have simply have to be cheerful, see meaning in life, be normal to overcome depression….and being normal comes ordinarily to lesser mortals, who do not have any other added pressures to remain normal.  Reaching greater heights, standing on the podium bending for the medal is not a matter of life and death……. Overcoming depression certainly is.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar

5th Feb 2014.

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