Canton native, Olympic champion opens up on mental health struggles

‘It’s OK to not be OK’

CANTON TOWNSHIP, Mich. – Allison Schmitt is an Olympic gold medalist who is training for her fourth potential Olympic Games.

The eight-time Olympic medalist has her sights set on the Tokyo Games.

“Luckily, we’re able to still train right now,” Schmitt said. “We each have our own lane and we wear a vest. The moment we get out of the lane, we put the mask back on.”

The 30-year-old Canton Township native has been training six days a week in Scottsdale, sometimes twice a day.

“Getting in the water is probably the worst part -- freezing waters the worst part,” Schmitt said. “The whole world has had to adjust and so I am grateful that we’re still able to train in still able to compete.”

Training for a coveted spot on Team U.S.A. isn’t easy, especially during a pandemic, but Schmitt is feeling pretty confident ahead of the Olympic Trials in June.

“COVID was a curveball that no one was prepared for. We’re all going to have to adjust and that is definitely a time when we’re going to have to be more supportive for each other,” Schmitt said. “As athletes, I think that we’re used to making changes, adapting.”

She said they have continued to train as if everything will happen as planned.

“Who knows if things are going to be postponed or canceled,” Schmitt said. “It’s all about the journey, so that’s a fun process right now and that’s what I have my eye set on.”

Schmit is open and transparent about her own personal struggles with depression.

READ: How the COVID pandemic is impacting sleep, health

“I think it’s important because a lot of people see the highlights. The highlight reels of the exciting times and what’s on TV and on TV, it’s not really shown,” Schmitt said. “The struggles are the hard times leading up to that. I think it’s important to speak about that and understand that we’re all human.”

She said she carries that with her when she’s visiting her family in Canton or training in Arizona. She said it’s important to have a support system wherever you go. Part of her support system includes her friend Michael Phelps.

Related: Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps opens up about personal struggle with anxiety

“I’ve had my struggles this past year and so I’m able to lean on both him and and his wife Nicole,” Schmitt said. “Their kids are definitely a joy, and you can walk in to the house with so many troubles and they come right up to you with a big hug. It’s like, that doesn’t even matter. They just love you for who you are.”

Schmitt said it’s important for her to be open about mental health because people see athletes as “superheroes.”

”I know myself and other teammates have struggled as well,” Schmitt said. “We turn to each other for those times. It’s not a one man, so we need to lean on each other and to use that support, but also know that we have our hard days and everyone has those hard days. I said it’s OK to not be OK, but it’s not OK to internalize all that.”

That’s easier said than done. She was at her physical peak last spring, just as the pandemic began.

“You can never plan for the unknown. So, just as long as we can support each other and stay in the moment and rather than look forward to what’s going to happen next, but enjoy those moments that we are currently in,” Schmitt said. “I think that’s the best way to approach situations. I can train today, but who knows tomorrow if we’ll be shut down or we’ll be competing.”

She said she shares a simpler reminder for anyone -- no matter who you are, or what kind of struggle you may be facing.

“I am very loved and I think everyone watching this is very loved, whether you feel that or not,” Schmitt said. “There’s a lot of love that goes unsaid, and sometimes we don’t notice that love around us but there’s a lot of people out there that love us.”

Read: The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a growing need for mental health support

About the Authors:

Dane is a producer and media enthusiast. He previously worked freelance video production and writing jobs in Michigan, Georgia and Massachusetts. Dane graduated from the Specs Howard School of Media Arts.