‘Your heart has been ripped to shreds’: New Zealand hockey star’s open letter catches eye of top Olympians

Brooke Neal’s letter was shared by Simone Biles and has received responses from several Olympians

Shweta Sharma
Friday 03 September 2021 13:20
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<p>File: Brooke Neal has written an open letter on Instagram, detailing the mental health struggles  faced by athletes after Olympics</p>

File: Brooke Neal has written an open letter on Instagram, detailing the mental health struggles faced by athletes after Olympics

A heartfelt open letter by former New Zealand Olympian Brooke Neal has initiated a conversation on mental health and received overwhelming response from other Olympic stars.

Neal posted the elaborate letter detailing the realities of struggles, confusion, mixed emotions and post-Olympics blues felt by athletes after the world’s biggest sporting event.

The letter caught the attention of some of the biggest sporting stars of the world who shared it on social media. One of them was American gymnastics star Simone Biles, who made headlines for withdrawing from some events in the 2020 Olympics over mental health issues.

Neal, who is the ambassador for the New Zealand Olympic Committee and retired in May 2020, titled her letter: “Dear Olympian, a letter I wish I got post Olympics”.

“I just wanted to pop in and check on you. So you might be a little confused right about now. You’ve just competed at the world’s biggest sporting event and yet, this is one of the lowest times you’ve ever felt,” she wrote.

Neal said that even after athletes pour their “blood, sweat and tears” for the Games, they are not prepared for life once the Games conclude.

“You weren’t prepared for life to continue as if nothing happened. When you walk down the street and from the outside, you still look the same. But your insides are still processing all that you’ve been through, and no one can see that,” she wrote.

“‘They don’t understand’, you might think. Not even your close friends and family.”

The letter said despite all the attention, love and support athletes are surrounded with, they still feel alone.

“On one hand, you think, ‘Yeah, that was frickin epic. What an experience’ but on the other hand, your heart has been ripped to shreds from the rollercoaster you’ve been on and you’re on the verge of tears over the smallest things. Like you’re a tree that hasn’t put its roots down and the smallest gust of wind could knock you over,” Neal wrote.

The letter was shared on 23 August and has gone viral since, striking a chord with athletes and people across the world and collecting more than 44,000 likes on Instagram.

The issue around the mental health challenges of athletes has been gaining increasing attention over recent months as a result of the efforts of athletes, including Naomi Osaka, said to be one of the world’s tennis players.

Osaka opened up on her own mental health issues after she missed a press conference at the French Open and was fined $15,000, something that caused massive public furore.

The 23-year-old then withdrew from the tournament altogether, saying she suffered anxiety before sessions with the media and revealing that she experienced bouts of depression.

Neal told news website Stuff that she had a “fan-girl moment” when she saw Biles had shared her letter, “especially given what she has done for athletes in that mental health and wellness space at the Tokyo Games”.

American diver Delaney Dchnel, a 2020 Olympic silver medalist, said: “Thank you for helping me understand the way I have been feeling because I couldn’t understand it! It’s reassuring to know many athletes are facing the same challenges! Thank you.”

“Holy reading this made [me] cry,” said Zealand women’s rugby Sarah Hirini, who recently won gold in Tokyo, said. “It’s so very true … how is this not talked about more?”

Neal concluded the letter by offering advice: “What I know for sure is that everything you’re feeling will pass. You will start to feel better, I promise. Take it one step at a time, one day at a time, and remember that you are exactly where you are meant to be.”

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