Adam Peaty: Leaving The Darkness Behind As Competitive Waters Beckon Once More

Adam Peaty: Photo Courtesy: Aaron Okayama, Speedo

Adam Peaty: Leaving The Darkness Behind As Competitive Waters Beckon Once More

Adam Peaty cuts a calm, reflective figure ahead of his return to competition at the World Cup, a far cry from the darkness which enveloped the three-time Olympic champion at the turn of the year.

Such was the severity of his desolation and loneliness, Peaty considered quitting “a thousand times”.

But time away from heavy training and competition gave him the space to breathe and to experience life without the boundaries of a strict regime.

Energised by his glimpse into another life and bolstered by his family, faith and church community, Peaty reflected and re-evaluated his life and priorities.

He let go of trying to affect things outside his control and instead focused on those who mattered most – son George, family, friends and Team Peaty.

Unwilling to live with the pain of regret, the 28-year-old resolved to continue but with an approach far removed from what went before.

Peaty told Swimming World:

“To be honest, I’m not bothered about the medals or the gold.

“For the first time in my life, I’m bothered about the challenge to myself, to prove to myself that I can come from the lowest point of my career – even though I had all the golds and all the world records and I know how that felt.

“But now I’m just going to come back and give myself the challenge and give myself one huge opportunity to get the best out of myself – in all areas of my life.”

Disruption, Burnout And Filling The Void

Upheaval marked Peaty’s 2022.

He split with former partner Eiri Munro with whom he shares three-year-old son George.


Adam Peaty: Photo Courtesy: AARON OKAYAMA, Speedo

That followed the first defeat of his career in the 100m breaststroke when he finished fourth at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham although he responded to claim the 50 title.

That in turn came after a foot injury that saw him withdraw from the World Championships in Budapest.

Peaty travelled to Melbourne for the World Short-Course Championships in December, coming away with 100m bronze.

But despite enjoying Christmas, it was around this time that the storm clouds started gathering and Peaty began to spiral.

He said:

“Melbourne was Melbourne and short-course is short-course and I still learned from that but not in a healthy manner, I was too self-destructive.”

Physically and mentally exhausted, the eight-time world champion turned to alcohol, saying:

“I was chasing numbness because I was so burnt-out.

“I came very close to stopping but I was just severely, severely unhappy and that was a very dark place because you tend to find other things to fill that void.”

A Glimpse Into Another Life

In March, Peaty withdrew from the British trials for the World Championships in Fukuoka, Japan, and stepped away from the heavy training that has been part of his life since he was a teenager.

So too had there been the cost of his pioneering achievements since July 2014 when he won his first senior international title at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

Since then he’d swept all before him at Olympic, world and European levels as he drove his events into places no-one had seriously considered possible.

But it had all taken its toll.

Coach Mel Marshall encouraged him to continue going to the pool at Loughborough National Training Centre, to spend time in the water.

Peaty confronted life past and present head on, distance enabling him to see that body and mind were not aligned in the athlete who a year ago described his drive as “demonic” in its relentlessness and intensity.

Adam Peaty of Great Britain prepares to compete in the 100m Breaststroke Men Semifinal during the FINA Swimming Short Course World Championships at the Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre in Melbourne, Australia, December 14th, 2022. Photo Giorgio Scala / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Adam Peaty: Photo Courtesy: Giorgio Scala/ Deepbluemedia/Insidefoto

He said:

“The training was really stable but it was almost like I was trying to be a person I’d been in the past instead of accepting my life is a little bit different now I’m older – an older athlete, a father.

“With that comes maturity, it comes with benefits but I wasn’t calm in my head.

“We used to want to win at all costs and we still do – I think that cost can still be hard work and sacrifice – they are the two pillars of elite sport, right?

“Back then it was more – any cost, I want to do it.

“You put so much pressure on yourself every day to turn up and if you don’t get the results then the emotional energy you require to give yourself a positive outcome is just too high.

“At the end of the day it burns you out.”

So too did he see how his identity and self-perception had been determined by his achievements in the pool.

“I think so. Especially from last year – and before that – I always used to swim with my identity as an athlete…being the best in the world or whatever.

“If I didn’t get that, then who would I be? And that does come with its benefits and many flaws but it’s not a healthy way to do a long-term sport at all, we all know that.”

There was also the loneliness of the elite athlete’s journey that isolated Peaty, exacerbating and magnifying that darkness.

He said:

“I think to have world records and to push the edges of the sport in various ways you’ve got to have something different about you and you’ve got to be thinking different, especially to the extent that we’ve done it in the past.

“So for me it’s incredibly lonely in the sense that I know my vision, I know what I want to do and that requires a huge amount of sacrifice but I would say in the literal sense, yes, before I had my break, the way I approached my sport, very different.

“I don’t feel lonely anymore, you just have lower days but that’s being human, you’ve got to welcome that challenge and for me, back then it was just incredibly dark.

“How do you deal with that when you’re trying to win a World Championships? Or when you’re trying to win Olympic Games?”

Faith, Family And Walking Into The Light

On top of his family and friends, partner Holly and the team around him, Peaty was also given support by British Swimming.

He also credits his faith and the community at the evangelical church he attends every Sunday with playing a fundamental role in his journey back to health.

On his torso is tattooed a cross and the words ‘Into The Light’ and Peaty said:

Adam Peaty with Cupra 15th September 2021 Derby Photography by Malcolm Griffiths M:07768 230706 I:@malcy1970 Adam Peaty with Cupra 15th September 2021 Derby Photography Copyrighgt by Malcolm Griffiths M:07768 230706 I:@malcy1970

Adam Peaty at Queen’s Leisure Centre, Derby: Photo Courtesy: CUPRA

“I don’t really like using the word like religion: for me it’s just a way of life and you choose how to use that or do it or serve or whatever God asks you to do I guess or whatever you feel.

“But at the end of the day I’ll never hide that from anyone – hence I got the tattoo – it’s given me more peace but at the same time it has also saved my life in a sense.”

He added:

“I’ve learned so much from March onwards when I really went – you know what? I’m either going to stop right now or I’m going to fight my way back and give myself the challenge of approaching the sport in a healthy manner but also in a manner that I enjoy it the majority of the time.

“I have come on leaps and bounds very, very quickly in terms of my mental wellbeing, also the people I have around me as well.”

Welcoming The Challenge Of Qin As The Water Beckons

The eight-time world champion will return to the water this weekend for the first time since the Edinburgh International in March at the first stop on the World Cup tour in Berlin, followed by legs in Athens and Budapest.

Awaiting will be double Olympic silver medallist Arno Kamminga, three-time world champion Nic Fink, Nicolo Martinenghi – double title-holder at the 2022 worlds – and Qin Haiyang, who swept the breaststroke events in Fukuoka for an historic treble.

The Chinese swimmer replicated that feat at the World University Games and again last week at the Asian Games in Hangzhou, China.

Qin is the second-fastest man in history behind Peaty over 50 and 100 and has stated his desire to take down the Briton’s world records of 56.88 and 25.95.

It’s something that Peaty welcomes, saying:

“Absolutely. Sport – especially swimming – we need to have those personalities.

“I don’t think I’ve ever met him as in said hello so we’ll get down to that, see how that goes.

“I knew ever since I broke that world record that people would be sniffing my blood, this is no surprise to me at all.

“I’m like – you know what, I’m not about that anymore. I’m just going to let my swimming do the talking and to get the results I want, that may take half a year, right to the Olympic Games.

“For me to do that I need a constant challenge so I am kind of happy actually that I’m going to have some good people there.”

Notify of

Welcome to our community. We invite you to join our discussion. Our community guidelines are simple: be respectful and constructive, keep on topic, and support your fellow commenters. Commenting signifies that you agree to our Terms of Use

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x