Every gold medal takes years of dedication, training and focus. But it also takes a mental toll on every athlete — a toll most are not prepared to deal with. David Boudia opened up about the weight he went through before – he is part of several documentaries about Olympic struggles.
Sometimes the toll comes before gold, whether it be a heartbreaking finish or missed opportunity. Sometimes it comes afterward with what has become known as an Olympic hangover or Olympic blues.
Boudia is featured on an upcoming HBO documentary “The Weight of Gold” that will be released July 29, and will also be a part of a series called “What Moves Me” on the Olympic Channel, which begins July 24.
“For both of these projects, it is a little intimidating because both of these are about mental health and put myself in a vulnerable position. The biggest thing I wanted to do with this is let people know it is a common struggle,” Boudia told Swimming World.
“There is such a misconception of athletes on the world stage and they are kind of up on a pedestal and people think they have everything they wanted, and that is not the case. The post Olympic blues are hard because athletes aren’t sure what to do. I am thankful for Toyota and the Olympic Channel (and HBO) for wanting to tell my story.”
For Boudia, the weight was the heaviest in 2008 when he made his first Olympic team and had hopes of medaling, but fell short of that goal.
“I didn’t even realize I wasn’t enjoying the moments of the journey,” he said. “The expectations you have at the Olympic Games that don’t get met are shattering. I finished my last event in Beijing and I was crushed. Then you have the entire emotional roller coaster of what the Olympics actually are. You have the highest of highs at the Opening Ceremony and marching in with the best athletes in the world.
“Then you have to go to work and for so many people it ends in heartbreak.”
After getting over that initial weight, which took a toll, Boudia was able to pick up the pieces and make a run at another Olympic team — then another.
But it took time to realize he needed to lift that weight off of his shoulders.
“I think it was about valuing the journey. For me specifically, that was helped by my faith. About a year afterward is when the depression really set in. Suicidal thoughts pushed their way in. It wasn’t until I started reaching out that I understood. The support was there, it was me not willing or feeling that I needed help,” he said.
“I can close my eyes and see what rock bottom was. It was September of 2009. I was sitting in my room at Purdue. I remember waking up from a nap and I pushed everyone away. Everyone went to a night football game, and I pushed them away and that is when the thoughts crept in. That scarred, but scarring doesn’t define you when you push forward.”
In 2012, he won gold on the 10-meter platform and bronze in the 10-meter synchro. He was the first American diver in 12 years to stand at the top of the podium at the Olympic Games.
In 2016, he won silver in the 10-meter synchro and bronze on the 10-meter platform.
“The biggest thing that I did approaching 2012 was planning for what life would look like after 2012 and setting up tiny goals to get there. My outcome goal was the Olympics and we had tiny goals to get there. When you break it up like that, it doesn’t seem un-achievable and allows you to enjoy each moment,” he said.
Mindfulness training is huge in today’s culture, and that is what athletes need to be doing. That is not to say you shouldn’t dream but it should be a good balance,” David Boudia said. “Life looked a little different going into 2016. After the 2012 games, I got married. In 2014, we met our first daughter. Life looked dramatically different.”
Now, Boudia, and his wife Sonnie, have three children: Dakoda (5), Mila (2) and Knox (1). David said starting a family helped his mindset more than he could have imagined.
“It is almost easier to train with three kids than with no responsibilities,” he said. “It is two different worlds. I go in and get my job done at the pool. Everything stays at the pool and then I go home and be dad. The balance and perspective is even more going into 2021.”
Especially after the COVID-19 pandemic postponed the games for an entire year.
“You can look at it one of two ways,” David Boudia said. “You can be dragged down by it or see it as an opportunity to get that much better toward your goals. Every athlete is in this position, whether they are back yet or not. We have to put a ton of work in to get back in shape and be ready for this. But the hardships in attaining the goals make achieving them that much sweeter.”