Canada's Overholt swims through struggles, sets sights on Tokyo

TORONTO (Reuters) - Emily Overholt spent time in hospital for depression after the 2016 Rio Olympics and even contemplated giving up swimming but the Canadian’s smile has returned and her eyes are set firmly on the Tokyo Games.

FILE PHOTO: Third placed Emily Overholt of Canada poses with medal after the women's 400m individual medley final at the Aquatics World Championships in Kazan, Russia, August 9, 2015. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth/File Photo

On her Olympic debut in 2016, Overholt reached the final of the 400m individual medley and was unexpectedly called into action to swim the heats of the 4x200m freestyle relay, with the Canadian team going on to win the bronze medal.

Yet while things seemed perfect on the outside, Overholt’s decision to make swimming her singular focus in the build-up to Rio, which meant spending little time with family and friends, and the pressure to make the team were affecting her mental health.

“I kind of took it a bit to the extreme. I look back and I think I didn’t do it the way that I wish I had,” the 22-year-old Overholt told Reuters.

“The Olympics is such an exciting time but at the same time there was always this underlying depression and it really hit me when I came home because I was on this high, like the Olympics was so fun, and then I had to go back to my normal life.”

Not long after Overholt returned home from the Rio Olympics she fell into a deep depression and was in hospital for over two months before finally being discharged in December 2016.

Overholt, who wanted to represent Canada ever since watching American Michael Phelps win an unprecedented eight Olympic gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Games, even thought her competitive swimming career might be over.

“I kind of thought ‘well, I went to the Olympics and I did everything that I wanted to do’,” said Overholt. “Even though I didn’t perform at my best at the Olympics ... it was so much stress that I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to do it again.”


Despite her potential, Overholt took the 2017 season off. Yet in September of that year, she decided she wanted to come back and train full-time and so returned to the pool under the supervision of a psychiatrist and psychologist.

Since her return, Overholt has taken a new approach to her training, one that includes school as well as spending more time with family and friends and talking openly about depression.

“The biggest thing for me now is having balance in my life,” said Overholt. “It has really helped me because when I do get all in my head and stress about swimming I can just go and do something else and not think about it.

“And just being able to talk about it and not hiding and not being ashamed of it is another big thing.”

Overholt, who burst onto the international scene in 2015 when she won the bronze medal in the 400m individual medley at the world championships, has realised that she performs at her best when she is just having fun and enjoying the moment.

So that is the approach she plans to take into the March 30th-April 5th Canadian Olympic Swimming Trials in Toronto where she hopes to punch her ticket to Tokyo.

“I am happy and I am healthy and this time it’s so different because when I do start to feel the stress and pressure, which is inevitable in the Olympic year, I have tools and I have people around me that are supporting me,” said Overholt.

“I am just more willing to talk about it and I know the signs when things are maybe not going so well and I can reach out and get some support.”

Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Toby Davis