Retired British middle-distance runner and decorated Olympian Dame Kelly Holmes was a two-time gold medal winner (in the 800-metre and 1500-metre events) at the 2004 Summer Olympic Games in Athens. On the outside, she seemed to have it all, having just reached the pinnacle of achievement in her sport. Off the track, however, her personal life told a different story. But her work to overcome her personal challenges has made her an inspiration.
A year after winning gold, Holmes decided to publicly speak out about her mental health. Earlier in her career, she suffered from several injuries which left her feeling depressed. As a way to cope with all the pain and anguish, she began self-harming. At her lowest, she even contemplated suicide. Holmes eventually sought professional help and saw a doctor, who diagnosed her with clinical depression. While she was unable to take anti-depressants, as the medication would have affected her athletic performance, Holmes opted to use herbal serotonin tablets instead.
In recent years, Holmes has bravely gone into more detail about just how dark her struggles had been, admitting to “cutting herself with scissors every day that she had been injured.”
Athletes are under a tremendous amount of pressure to perform, and those kinds of high expectations can easily lead to feelings of depression and anxiety. Mental health issues like depression can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, race, or occupation, and can impact those who have achieved great accolades or achievements just as easily. Things like medals and championships aren’t a direct representation of a person’s quality of life. Holmes’ willingness to share her story won her the support of many.
No stranger to adversity, Holmes grew up in Kent, where she was raised by her single mother. Kelly struggled in school as a child. It was her physical education teacher who spotted her athleticism and encouraged her to pursue track and field. At 17, Holmes joined the British Army as a sergeant, but after watching the Barcelona Olympics, she decided to return to the track in 1992.
Over the course of her career, Holmes won multiple events and set various British records, including in the 600-, 800-, and 1000-metre races, records she still holds today. In addition to her Olympic gold in 2004, she won an Olympic bronze medal in 2000, two gold medals at the Commonwealth Games in 1994 and 2002 as well as a silver in 1998, a silver and a bronze at the 1995 World Championships, another silver at the 2003 World Championships, and a silver at the 1994 European Championships along with a bronze in 2002. She’s been named the BBC Sports Person of the Year, European Athlete of the Year, and was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire by the Queen in 2005.
Today, her passion and vision can be witnessed through her post-athletics career, which includes the founding of the Dame Kelly Holmes Trust, an organization that focuses on delivering transformative programing and mentorships to disadvantaged youth across the UK. The sessions are run by previous Olympians, Paralympians, and other world-class athletes who share their personal stories and give valuable advice. The program even offers support to other ex-athletes who need help transitioning into their new lives after retirement.
In August 2017, Holmes’ mother passed away from her battle with Myeloma, a form of blood cancer she had been diagnosed with in 2014. Holmes became an ambassador for the Make Blood Cancer Visible campaign and is determined to shed light on the disease and its symptoms.
What truly sets Dame Kelly Holmes apart is that she has always used her platform to support and promote causes larger than herself, continuously fostering open dialogue and positive change. Her legacy will be her resilience during triumph.
Rhea Braganza | Staff Writer
Photo Credit: Daily Star