Canadian Olympian Emily Overholt Talks about Battle with Depression

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Photo Courtesy: Scott Grant

Emily Overholt’s performance at the 2016 Rio Olympics was a high point in her young career. But it came at a price for the then 18-year-old, who spent more than two months in the hospital dealing with depression that year.

Now 22, Overholt has rediscovered her passion in the pool, opening up about her struggle with depression this week in an interview with Reuters.

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

Overholt had a breakout performance in Rio. She was 25th in the 400 freestyle and took fifth in the 400 individual medley. She swam in prelims of the 800 freestyle relay, garnering a bronze medal when the finals squad (Brittany MacLean, Penny Oleksiak, Katerine Savard, Taylor Ruck) clocked a national record time of 7:45.39.

After her return from Rio, the Vancouver native fell into a depression that left her hospitalized for more than two months, finally discharged in December 2016. She skipped the 2017 season altogether.

The second chapter of Overholt’s swimming life has entailed more balance, and talking about her struggles has helped. Instead of a singular focus on training, she’s incorporated more time for family, friends and school life. She’s currently training with Tom Johnson at the High Performance Center in Vancouver ahead of Canadian trials at the end of March.

“The biggest thing for me now is having balance in my life,” Overholt said. “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.”

The results back her approach. Overholt was fifth in the 400 IM at last summer’s World Championships, a spot behind countrywoman Sydney Pickrem. She swam a finals leg in the 800 free relay, teaming with Ruck, Oleksiak and Kayla Sanchez to again capture bronze in a national record 7:44.35.

Overholt finished 2019 ranked 13th in the world in the 400 IM in long-course meters (4:37.42) and 15th in short-course meters (4:31.74). She finished 25th in the world in the 200 IM in SCM in 2019, setting personal-bests in the SCM 200 IM, 400 IM and 200 butterfly with the New York Breakers in the International Swimming League.