Jeremy Holm, a coach of the U.S. disabled bobsledders, has done a lot of outreach work for people who, like him, suffer from anxiety and depression. In a sport that itself gets almost no press, Holm’s work gets even less.
Olympic gold medallist Steve Holcomb has something in common with Holm. It’s hard to discuss his revelations without using taboid-press terminology like “bombshell.” In a nutshell, though:
His rare form of vision loss, keratoconus, was something he hid, even from his sport. (Looking back on the press coverage, I see now he was never quite consistent about whether or not he disclosed his vision loss or how much it hindered his driving a bobsled.)
Fear of going blind led to depression, treatment for which was thwarted by international rules on medications athletes can legitimately take. (Those rules have hindered or disqualified countless other athletes; going back to the Paralympics for a moment, look at the case of Earle Connor.)
Holcomb actually attempted suicide, but, uncannily, he felt no ill effects from the pills he swallowed.
Then Holcomb underwent experimental eye surgery. Then he won gold at the Vancouver Olympics, not to mention a string of other medals on the bobsleigh circuit.
What I see here is an absence of support for an athlete with a disabling medical condition and with a mental illness. It isn’t just that straight guys don’t like to get help (in this case, for depression); Team USA gave Holcomb the impression he had nowhere to turn and had a bureaucracy to manage all by himself.
Also, Bears for Steve Holcomb needs to recognize that Holcomb’s status as a bear was largely due to a medication side-effect. Holcomb might have been the only bobsedder with a gut for a couple of years, but he was not a fat bastard. (Nor is he now.)
Why aren’t Holcomb and Jeremy Holm working together? Do they even know of each other’s cases?
Is there another bobsledder facing a similar health threat or disability? (Or, notwithstanding the You Can Play Project and the like, is gay and feels he has to hide it?) Where’s the support? Bobsleigh is an A-list sport in a B-list competition (the Winter Olympics); Holcomb is king of the castle among U.S. bobsledders. And this is how they treated him.
I continue to be baffled by the contradictions of bobsleigh, where everyone loves being around guys that big and strong (even big, strong bobsledders); where everybody on this side of the pond is one or another of Republican, Mormon, evangelical Christian, anti-abortion, or a hunter but also quite often in favour of what Americans insist on calling gay marriage; where disabled bobsleigh kind of begins to happen, then implodes, and at any rate allows a white supremacist in its midst. Now we know the best bobsledder in the world was left high and dry – virtually abandoned – as his eyes gave out, he suffered serious mental illness, and tried to kill himself.
There has to be a lot more going on here, but Holcomb isolates himself from the public better than an up-and-coming Hollywood starlet who just signed with the William Morris Agency. He’s basically unreachable, and not really amenable to a live interview.