My black dog fog

Track cham­pion Rae­lene Boyle has bat­tled de­pres­sion for years, writes Dar­ren Dev­lyn

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BRU­TALLY hon­est Rae­lene Boyle con­fesses she’s had her trou­bles ne­go­ti­at­ing a life punc­tu­ated by breath­tak­ing highs and morale-crush­ing lows.

When you con­sider what the Olympic Games com­men­ta­tor and for­mer track cham­pion has ex­pe­ri­enced since the 1972 Mu­nich Olympics, it’s no sur­prise she’s had dif­fi­culty achiev­ing sus­tained emo­tional sta­bil­ity.

Thirty-six years af­ter the three­time Olympic sil­ver medal­list was robbed of gold by a drug cheat in Mu­nich, Boyle has learnt a sim­ple life phi­los­o­phy works best for her.

She ap­plies the same at­ti­tude to life as she did to ath­let­ics: when you run, you win or you lose, but the re­sult doesn’t change the fact you have to get on with the job. In the mid­dle of hard­ship, she says, she’s tried to find strength and so­lace in what she has to look for­ward to.

Boyle, only 17 when she won her first Olympic sil­ver medal in Mex­ico in 1968, says: ‘‘There was a pe­riod in life where I did dwell on (neg­a­tive) things. It took me a long time to get over the Mu­nich Olympics. I fi­nally got over them in 1997 when I vis­ited Renate Stecher (the East Ger­man drug cheat who robbed Boyle of gold).

‘‘I then re­alised suc­cess comes in many forms. I feel that the suc­cess of my life is that I’ve been able to get out and com­pete against the drug cheats and beat many of them. I’ve been beaten by the odd one, but I’ve been able to hold my head high and say I’ve never in my life taken so much as an as­pirin to help me per­form bet­ter. So that’s win­ning to me.’’

Boyle, an ath­let­ics com­men­ta­tor for Chan­nel 7 in Bei­jing, has un­doubt­edly faced the great­est demons in her life off the track.

She plumbed the dark­est re­cesses of her psy­che in 1996, when told she had breast can­cer.

An­other joust with ad­ver­sity came with ovar­ian can­cer in 2000-01.

Then, three months be­fore leav­ing her home in Queens­land for the 2002 Com­mon­wealth Games, Boyle was di­ag­nosed with atrial fib­ril­la­tion, an ab­nor­mal­ity of heart rhythm in which cham­bers of the or­gan can­not con­tract in an or­gan­ised way. Side-ef­fects for Boyle were ex­treme ex­haus­tion and a rac­ing pulse. With­out surgery, she risked a stroke.

‘‘I had the atrial fib­ril­la­tion fixed last year,’’ Boyle says.

‘‘I went to Ade­laide for the surgery and stayed with ‘Macca’ (her com­men­tat­ing col­league and mate Bruce McA­vaney, who is based in South Aus­tralia).

‘‘I’m feel­ing good. My heart is ter­rific, I have a lot more en­ergy, but the thing I don’t have any more,’’ she adds with a laugh, ‘‘is youth. I’m not go­ing jog­ging an hour a day on the beach or any­thing like that.’’

Tack­ling phys­i­cal ill­ness, she ex­plains, can be straight­for­ward.

‘‘You deal with it, you get through the tough times and look for­ward to the good times,’’ she says. ‘‘If you dwell on that stuff (fac­ing treat­ment for ill­ness) you just bury your­self early.’’

En­dur­ing men­tal ill­ness can be a far more com­plex af­fair, a fact il­lus­trated by many who have talked openly about their bat­tles.

In the lead-up to his death in 2002, Hol­ly­wood leg­end Rod Steiger gave a dis­turb­ing in­sight into his years of strug­gle with psy­cho­log­i­cal ill­ness.

‘‘It’s like be­ing en­cased in ran­cid yel­low jelly, all the while cry­ing out for help,’’ Steiger says of de­pres­sion. ‘‘But a lot of the time no­body can hear you.’’

For­mer Bri­tish prime min­is­ter Win­ston Churchill de­scribed de­pres­sion as ‘‘the black dog’’.

Churchill de­scribed how de­pres­sion came un­ex­pect­edly, un­in­vited, sniff­ing at his door. He would hide away, but the ‘‘dog’’ would in­evitably find its way in and sit be­side him in the dark.

Boyle knows how it feels to have that dark cloak of de­pres­sion wrapped around you.

‘‘De­pres­sion, the old black dog, is a hor­ri­ble thing to deal with,’’ Boyle says. ‘‘I think be­cause I’ve had it so long I man­age it bet­ter th­ese days. I don’t take med­i­ca­tion for it any more. I’m lucky I have peo­ple around who en­cour­age me to ex­er­cise and get out to the beach for a walk.

‘‘I have very good friends who help me through those very tough times, but it hap­pens less and less. But the dan­ger of it is al­ways there. There are trig­gers, like if I lose a mate to can­cer. A sad story can re­ally tear me apart and sink me into de­pres­sion.

‘‘It is hard. I found (fight­ing phys­i­cal ill­ness and de­pres­sion at the same time) that I pushed peo­ple away who were clos­est and dear­est to me. You go into a co­coon and it’s a real bat­tle to get out of it.

‘‘Ex­er­cise sal­vages me from that. I’m sure ex­er­cise helps de­pres­sion be­cause it al­lows you to breathe fresh air and look at the re­al­ity and beauty of what’s around you.’’

Ready, set, go:

Rae­lene Boyle will com­men­tate on ath­let­ics in Bei­jing.

Pic­ture: CRAIG BOR­ROW

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