HOW we look at our sporting heroes, grassroots and elite, must change. Bit-by-bit, the instilled values we admire about them is gradually evolving.
But it all comes back to talk. Open, honest conversations to normalise mental health.
North Melbourne AFL premiership player Wayne Schwass pedalled into Ballarat on Thursday night on the penultimate day of a 1433-kilometre bike ride with the aim to start more conversations.
Sport can be an incredible vehicle for education and awareness, tapping right into the heart of issues of our community and promoting change. Sport, particularly at the elite levels, can often be a microcosm for greater society.
Schwass was at the top of his game in 1996 with an AFL premiership medallion around his neck. This was the Kangaroos’ vice-captain, a well-paid professional for his trade, doing what he loves and seemingly with the world at his feet. Mentally, he was acutely hurting in the grips of depression.
Everyone at the club is right behind @WayneSchwass and the 28 riders taking part in the @Puka_Up Bike Ride for Suicide Prevention, starting today.— North Melbourne (@NMFCOfficial) March 15, 2018
If you missed 'A Silent War', Wayne's amazingly brave & honest documentary, watch here: https://t.co/CrBBM4PmDdpic.twitter.com/oH2Mu8fIkB
Schwass reiterates mental health conditions do not discriminate between class or career – you can be really successful but still have a mental health condition.
This is a message that translate far beyond sporting ranks.
Schwass says the industry was not ready to tackle mental health in his playing days.
Bit-by-bit the stoic, infallible image of sporting heroes is turning with courage from the likes of AFL’s biggest star Lance Franklin, netballer Caitlin Thwaites and Olympic swim champion Libby Trickett among those going public with their struggles. Schwass features them Puka Up podcasts, content on demand so anyone can listen anywhere without having to disclose what they are tuning in to.
“When they’re talking about their journey people can see ‘those people are amazing and they have mental health struggles’,” Schwass told The Courier. “They go on and help people. There is real power in these conversations. We need to prioritise mental health in the same way we do physical health.”
In an industry so focused on pushing everything mentally and physically to the limit – trained aggression – to be the best in the game, conversations need to shift not just for those in the game, but those experiencing the shock transition out.
Schwass said there was no shame in asking for help or showing vulnerability.
In Shepparton, the night before Schwass’ Puka Up ride reached Ballarat, cyclists cried together in the motel as each stated his motivation for riding.
“It was allowing ourselves to be vulnerable,” Schwass said. It’s a really important skill set to develop, grown men openly crying.”
Puka Up, Schwass’ mental health advocacy body, was deliberate in its course: 1433 kilometres is exactly half the national suicide rate; the route from Sydney deviates to take in major regional areas so they can speak direct to country communities.
Sports heroes have an incredible platform to use their powers for good. Whatever the issue they tackle, pukka (Hindi for authentic, genuine) is an invaluable quality for strong role models.
- Lifeline on 13 11 14
- Follow Puka Up’s journey on Facebook here