Illuminating: Utah Olympic gold medalist Steve Holcomb shares battle with depression to offer insight, inspire hope
Asking for help felt impossible. And when he did manage to reach out, the reaction of some left him even more frustrated.
“There is definitely a misconception about what depression is,” said Holcomb. “I had a few friends who knew I was kind of down and depressed, and they would tell me, ‘Just cheer up. It will get better.’ It’s not just a matter of me saying, ‘I’m not going to be depressed.’ It’s a chemical imbalance.”
At the United States Olympic Committee media summit in September, Holcomb discussed why he decided to include his suicide attempt in his autobiography. It was a terrifying decision that he didn’t commit to until the final draft.
Not even his family knew that in 2007, in a Colorado Springs, Colo., hotel room, he swallowed 73 sleeping pills and too much whiskey. He wanted relief so badly, he didn’t bother to leave a note.
When he woke up, without even a headache, he had a epiphany.
“I was extremely fortunate that it didn’t work out,” he said. “I kind of thought through the next few weeks, ‘I’m here for a bigger purpose. I have something more that I need to do.’ That’s when I thought, ‘I’m going to take advantage of every opportunity.’”
It was in 2008 that Holcomb’s fortune started to turn.
During a team camp in Canada, he hid in his hotel room rather than spend time with his teammates. U.S. bobsled coach Brian Shimer confronted him about it.
“He didn’t quite understand what I meant by, ‘I’m blind’,” Holcomb recalled. What no one but him knew was that he’d been winning on the world’s toughest tracks with 20-500 vision.
He told Shimer he was quitting. He had no choice. He was overwhelmed with the guilt that he might hurt one of his teammates because he simply couldn’t see.
Shimer found a doctor in California who was pioneering a revolutionary new treatment for keratoconus patients. At the time it hadn’t been FDA approved, but it’s now known as the Holcomb C3-R. It’s non-surgical and it essentially cured Holcomb.
Suddenly, desperation turned to resolve as a grateful Holcomb began to pursue being the first American to win bobsled gold since 1948.
He won the world championships in 2009, and established himself as a favorite for the 2010 Games in Vancouver.
In February 2010, he navigated one of the most dangerous tracks in the world for Olympic gold. He said the victory now provides him with both confidence and freedom.
“I don’t feel a lot more pressure,” he said. “I’ve won my gold medal. So if I don’t win in Sochi, I’m still a gold medalist. That right there takes a lot of pressure off. But at the same time, I’m not going to the games (just to participate).”
He said equipment plays a huge role in a bobsledder’s success, and it may be even more critical in Sochi, a track that was altered to be slower after a luge athlete was killed just before the 2010 Games began.
“If you make a mistake, it’s over,” he said of the Sochi track, “because there is very little speed to gain.”
Holcomb earned an automatic bid on to the U.S. team in both of the seasons leading up to the Olympic Games. But unlike 2010 when he didn’t participate in team selection races, this year, he’s competing every chance he gets. His tactics paid off after he set records during team selection as he won every race in which he entered.
He even took a little extra pride in setting a start record (unofficially) with Fogt on a night when the Canadians were training on the Park City track.
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