Olympian Allison Schmitt: Bringing Darkness of Depression to Light

allison-schmitt-
Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Ashleigh Shanley, Swimming World Summer Intern 

Every swimmer faces their individual battles.  Whether it is an injury, an illness, or maybe even a few months of a plateau, we all face our personal struggles.  Yet, one battle many swimmers face that is not discussed frequently is mental illness.

Over the past few years, more and more professional athletes have opened up about their struggle with depression and other mental illnesses, and the athletic world has worked to stop the negative stigma that comes with having illnesses like depression.  One athlete who opened up about her experience and battle with depression is the swimming world’s very own Allison Schmitt.

Since the London Olympic Games, Schmitt has faced many changes.  She graduated from the University of Georgia, she chose to become a professional swimmer and signed with Adidas, she moved from Baltimore to Arizona, and she opened up publicly about her battle with depression.

After recently qualifying for her third Olympics, Schmitt talked to Swimming World about the challenges and changes she has faced the past few years, and how these changes impacted both her third Olympic Trials and how she is now preparing for her third Olympics.

“Going to this trials was different than either of the other two trials I went to,” said Schmitt. “Even though I enjoyed the journey all the way through, I think I can definitely be more appreciative now because I’ve learned so much more from my failures than any successes I’ve ever had.”

After winning five medals at the 2012 Olympics, and winning gold individually in the 200 meter free, Schmitt decided to return to Georgia and finish her college career.

“Then after 2013 when I graduated there was a choice,” said Schmitt.  “There was the choice of whether I could retire…or I could keep swimming and have my passion be my job.”

That is when Schmitt decided to become a professional swimmer, and train with Bob Bowman and Michael Phelps at NBAC in Baltimore, Maryland.  However, Schmitt said after graduating was when her struggle began.

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

“The hardest part was being done with college and becoming pro and actually having swimming as a job,” said Schmitt. “And it’s an awesome job…but not having those other distractions was the hardest.”

Schmitt said she had always followed a path her whole life.  A routine where she always knew what the next step was.  Both high school and college consisted of swimming, then going to classes, and swimming again.  However, once she decided to swim professionally, she seemed lost without her normal routine.

As she began her struggle with depression, Schmitt admits that she dug herself into a hole after the London Olympics.

“I think that athletes live in a different world and they’re taught at a young age not to ask for help,” said Schmitt. “We’re taught to keep persevering and pushing through, but life can be scary alone and there are a lot of other people out there that can help you and that have had similar experiences to you.”

After months of battling her depression alone, Schmitt reached out for help, opening up to her friends and teammates about her internal struggles.

Schmitt admitted the depression was the hardest part of the past four years, but she stressed that she was grateful she had four years since the London Olympics because it gave her enough time to get healthy and get the help she needed to return to where she wanted to be athletically.

“Last summer was the first summer I was able to perform and be back with the world’s elite athletes again,” said Schmitt.  “And so having that time to build myself back up was perfect timing for me.”

And within the past year, Schmitt has experienced many new changes that she believes helped her, including moving to Arizona.

“The excitement of change always helps me,” said Schmitt. “I think that the change that’s worked for me the most is knowing that there is life beyond swimming. I think I always realized that, but when I dug myself into a hole there I didn’t really see that. And at the end of the day, no matter how many records you have, how many medals you have, any accomplishments you have, you’re still a human just like the person next to you.”

And although Schmitt is a human, just like everyone else, she can now call herself a three-time Olympian after qualifying for the 4×200 relay at the US Olympic Swimming Trials.  Yet, regardless of her countless accomplishments, Schmitt praises and is incredibly grateful for all the people she has met along her journey.

“As individualized as this sport is I think it is so much more of a team sport because I wouldn’t push myself as hard as I have if it wasn’t for my teammates,” said Schmitt. “Those memories and those friendships throughout the years is what means the most to me and what I’ll take out of this sport when all is said and done.”

As she prepares for her third Olympic Games, Schmitt does admit that she eventually wants go back to school so that she can have a scientific background in mental health and depression.

“I can speak from experience but that can only take you so far,” said Schmitt.  “Down the road I would love to teach other people ways they can help other athletes.”

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Brandi Schmidt
Brandi Schmidt
7 years ago

Such a huge fan of Schmitty! Enjoy the ride!!

Paula Gintowt Terrell
Paula Gintowt Terrell
7 years ago

Very brave young lady. Thanks for raising awareness.

Alexander B Gallant
7 years ago

Big fan Allison great that you were able to ask for help. It’s the first step.

Marlene Beyer
Marlene Beyer
7 years ago

Great good luck at the Olympics Schmitty.

Jennifer Royal
Jennifer Royal
7 years ago

What a wonderful role model!
Best of luck in Rio!!

Diane Runge
7 years ago

What you do for this world out of the pool..the influence and impact…FAR FAR matters more and is worth piles of gold greater….you are….amazing. Can’t wait for Rio..but can’t wait for what’s next much more. YOU WILL MAKE A DIFFERENCE. Love you. The best is yet to come….

Brian Mullies
Brian Mullies
7 years ago

Me too. I get you all. I love swimming.

Nancy Nguyen
Nancy Nguyen
7 years ago
Bridge to Nowhere
Bridge to Nowhere
7 years ago

Of course there is a let-down when an athlete has spent his or her life mastering and fine-tuning skills that are utterly useless in the job market. She seems like a nice young lady, personable, likable. Hope she finds something more than swimming, which, in terms of career opportunities, is very much a bridge to nowhere.

Cate
Cate
7 years ago

Do you even know anything about this? Have you followed anything she has ever said before this interview about depression and her struggles with it? It was more than a “let-down”. Take a look at this youtube video and educate yourself. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wg-91PF3vvw And btw, whether or not the skills and experiences you learn throughout your life are useless, depends on how you integrate them into the rest of your life. She has done that and has plans after Rio.

Bridge to Nowhere
Bridge to Nowhere
7 years ago
Reply to  Cate

LIke I said: nice young lady, personable, likable. Unfortunately she and many other elite swimmers put it all into swimming, and it was a rude awakening when swimming didn’t have much to give back. Not only do I know it, I know it in a big, ugly way. Best shut your pie hole rather than get in a flame war with me about it. You have no idea.

Bridge to EVERYWHERE
Bridge to EVERYWHERE
7 years ago

Bridge to nowhere, her swimming experience can take her leaps and bounds beyond the swimming world and work in her favor as she begins a new career when she’s done swimming professionally. Perhaps it didn’t work in your favor, but it sounds like Allison is a strong woman who has already obtained one degree and has plans to go back to school after swimming to obtain another in the mental Heath profession. Her experience as an elite swimmer with first hand knowledge of what an athlete struggles with will only benefit her when she begins the next chapter in her life. Some people just want to be Debbie Downers to others when things don’t go as planned for them.

Bridge to Nowhere
Bridge to Nowhere
7 years ago

I hope she will find happiness and fulfillment after swimming. The thing is, it’s very unlikely to be found in the sport because of the lack of opportunity. The only way to know about that is to experience it, as I have and clearly you have not. Swimming is a remarkably weak job market compared to the real world outside the bubble. Very few people make a decent living in the sport, and it’s much more work than other careers that pay more and have better benefits and more stability. That’s why the smart ones get out.

Wiete Liebner
7 years ago

Good luck Allison! We are proud of you.

john m razi
john m razi
7 years ago

Huge fan. Extraordinary spirit. Exudes..kindness plus beautiful heart. Clearly held close to soul by teammates, coaches. Gutsy..gutsy-gutsy. Fantastic competitor. A very “knowing” young woman..Go Allison !!!! – jmr

Sharon Barrows
7 years ago

Amazing athelete and an amazing young woman.! Wishing you continued success and blessings in all life’s journeys.

Linda j briwn
Linda j briwn
7 years ago

Thank you Schmitty you have just helped so many . All people go through some form of depression at one time or another. Some snap out of it on their own others don’t and struggle and then worse. The world of swimming has helped me immensely with my own issues I love watching the trials and the games. I love the Olympics and our Olympians, you’re the best thank you !!!!

Swim Parent
Swim Parent
7 years ago

Allison is such an amazing woman and truly wants to give back to her fellow athletes. Strong woman with goals and aspirations. My daughter has met her and is so inspired by her. As someone who struggles with depression myself, I commend Allison for speaking up, getting help, bringing awareness, and wanting to help future athletes who may struggle with mental issues as well. It also helps bring awareness to the parents of athletes in order to watch for signs and seek help for their child before it is too late. Her experience as an elite swimmer and experience with mental illness will only support her and help her as moves on from swimming into a new career. We wish her only the best in life and in Rio.

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