BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — A year ago, Trey Hardy found himself at rock bottom, alone in his hotel room.
The two-time world champion, Olympic decathlon silver medalist, and father of three struggled to cope with real life in the aftermath of his track and field success, ending his own life. I was thinking of hitting.
“I read my diary that night,” the 39-year-old said in a telephone interview with the Associated Press this summer from his home in Austin, Texas. “I don’t know who it was.”
His darkest moment came in July 2022, when he was preparing for a new day as a television analyst at last year’s World Championships in Oregon. Hardy will be behind the microphone once again at this year’s World Championships, which kick off Saturday in Hungary, but in a much calmer manner, and his story will serve as a lesson for hundreds of athletes battling mental health. I hope
“I went to counseling and found ways to mature my relationship with the sport,” he said of his 14-year decathlete career that ended in 2017.
Hardy’s story is not unfamiliar to retiring world-class athletes. Often they don’t know what to do next. In Hardy’s case, those questions were exacerbated by the fact that he didn’t realize it days, weeks, or even years after his retirement was officially announced. In his rush to move on to a “normal life,” he forgot to give his career what it deserves. It deserves a send-off.
“I never grieve the loss of it the way you grieve when you lose someone you love,” Hardy said. “Without that process, without doing anything like that, it was like a wound or illness for me that went untreated for five years. Throughout my first year, I was really struggling, feeling really embarrassed, and didn’t know why.
Even years after the fact, telling the world about such things is a relatively new phenomenon among elite athletes. For decades, so many people have said that revealing their insecurities about their mental health can be a sign of weakness for opponents, coaches, and those who decide who gets on the Olympic team. I was afraid that it would be perceived as a sign.
The COVID-19 pandemic and the disruption it has caused to the lives of many Olympians has played a major role in changing that dynamic. Simone Biles, Noah Lyles and Sha Kali Richardson are among the notable athletes whose careers have been radically altered by their mental health. Everyone has fearlessly accepted their reality.
“It’s okay if it’s not OK,” was the watchword chanted by gymnast Biles and others after she shockedly withdrew from the individual all-around team at the Tokyo Olympics two years ago.
Hardy said the recent death of Olympic gold medalist Tori Bowie was a particularly hard blow. The 32-year-old champion sprinter, who died alone at home from complications during childbirth in April, had a history of mental health problems, with an autopsy listing bipolar disorder. Hardy knew Bowie from being on the same team and often talked to her during her photo shoots.
“It’s just heavy, heavy grief,” Hardy said.
Jess Bartley, director of mental health for the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, said mental health remains “tremendously stigmatized” despite the big shift in public awareness.
She said helping athletes navigate retirement, both before and after they decide to retire, is one of the most important missions her department undertakes.
“There’s actually a lot of information and research coming out around the fact that in the back of your mind you might be worried about retirement,” she says. “So why didn’t you think about retiring? Why didn’t you think about how your skills will be passed on when you retire?
In his early 30s, with one child (he and wife Chelsea would later have two more children), Hardy knew he would be successful after his track career was over.
He found a new role and a new purpose as a family man, as a track and field commentator for NBC, and as a high performance trainer. He felt very comfortable turning the pages.
Maybe too much fun.
Hardy admitted that she struggled to voice her concerns. It was difficult to get anyone in. He also had his wife, who could offer his insights as a retired world-class pole vaulter, and friends who forged similar career paths as elite athletes.
Hardy said he has not used any of the mental health services made available through the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee and US Athletics since retiring. Both of these services have played a role in his training over the years.
“You never know what you don’t know,” he said of the benefits of the counseling he received afterwards.
“You can plan and plan, but unless you’re talking to a professional or really just being yourself. This isn’t about work, nor is it about making alternative plans.” It’s not about safety nets, it’s about your soul and your consciousness.”
A year after his darkest moment, things are changing and feeling different around the Hardy family.
Some of the photos and memorabilia that had been tucked away in closets and dusty nooks to avoid recalling the career memories he intended to leave behind are resurfacing. One of his favorite pictures of him throwing the discus now hangs in a prime location near the piano.
For one of the world’s most sensitive athletes, a man who had to master not one but ten different disciplines to become a two-time world champion, it’s as simple as bringing his career memories to the fore. The deed represented one of his life. Most important breakthrough.
“It took time, but I got over it,” Hardy said. He also opened up about his mental health struggles on the podcast “Life Beyond The Game” with former NFL offensive lineman Joe Hawley.
“And when I got up, I regained my balance. And when I regained my balance, I started looking up. And after I started looking up, I started climbing. I’m in a place where I’m breathing fresh air again.”
“I can see the sun,” he said. “I can see life”
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