Dame Kelly Holmes has said it is important for sports stars who have struggled with mental health issues to speak out about their experiences to show young fans they are “human” and “not untouchable”.
The 48-year-old double Olympic gold medallist has spoken in the past about how she self-harmed “to release the anguish” she felt when suffering from career-threatening injuries.
She told the Standard she wanted to help young people to see their sporting role models as “real people”.
She said: “It is important young people can see that role models are role models because you have built them up and been inspired by them. But actually we are all human beings. Talking about our own issues and saying: ‘You know what, we are not untouchable, we are not fairy tales’, that’s a big deal.”
The runner, from Hildenborough in Kent, was speaking at an event for Prudential’s PruGoals campaign. The project enables 500 disadvantaged students, some of whom have struggled with mental health problems, to participate in the 46-mile bike ride Prudential Ride London-Surrey 46 on July 29 by giving them the training, skills and equipment.
At a training event in Lee Valley VeloPark in Stratford, Dame Kelly — who will also be taking part in the event — said she hoped the ride would help those taking part realise they can achieve any ambition they set their mind to.
“A lot of people are suffering from mental health problems in one form or another,” she said. “Having something to focus on that is also physical, it has got to be positive. Sport can change your life in every sense. If you can do something that will change the way you feel about yourself, then that is something that will help you change your life.”
Holmes took up cycling when she retired from running in 2004. In 2016, she rode in the first RideLondon-Surrey 46, a shorter course that takes place at the same time as the original RideLondon-Surrey 100.
She said she wanted to get involved in the PruGoals project — which works with five charities including Teach First, Centre Point, Dame Kelly Holmes Trust, Greenhouse Sports and the Transformation Trust — as she felt she could help those involved.
Dame Kelly had two pieces of advice. She said: “Realise what you have around you and how lucky you are to see London in this way. And you are going to have to train a bit. You’ve got to get on your bike — 46 miles is 46 miles. No corners you can cut.”