It took just one knock on the door of a hotel room to save legendary Aussie Olympian Leisel Jones’ life.
The three-time Olympic gold medallist was at ‘the lowest point in her life’ and could see no way out as she lay on a Spanish hotel room floor in 2011.
Contemplating taking her own life, Jones was a broken woman before a coach happened to knock on her hotel room door, sensing something was wrong.
Star Olympian and beloved Aussie Leisel Jones has opened up about the lowest point of her life, when she was planning to take her own life
Leisel Jones is all smiles at the 2012 London Olympics, but the outward happiness was masking some dark times underneath
It was the ultimate sliding doors moment.
At the time, three years after finally capturing her first individual gold medal – in the 100m breaststroke – at her third Olympics in Beijing, Jones was struggling to find worth or motivation.
Instead of quitting swimming, she almost quit life altogether.
Leisel Jones (left) with another former Olympic gold medallist, Libby Trickett
‘My whole identity and self-worth was wrapped in swimming, and once I achieved the gold medal that I so desperately wanted, I really questioned who am I without swimming,’ Jones said of the destructive thoughts she was facing at the time.
‘I was ready to retire, and I wanted to move on; but I had nothing else and no life without swimming … I didn’t even know what I liked doing every day.
‘So I continued swimming and I wanted to be the first swimmer to four [Olympic] Games, but my heart wasn’t really in it and my mental health started to spiral.’
Leisel Jones smiles with her bronze medal in the 100m breaststroke as a 19-year-old at the 2004 Athens Olympics
The spiral was brutal, and if not for the coach who knocked on her door when she was at her lowest ebb, Leisel may not be alive to tell the story today.
‘I was thinking: “I’m not myself, I don’t feel good”, there were no other options for me, work or study, and I didn’t think there was any way out of it,’ she said of wanting to take her own life.
‘It’s one of those sliding door moments. He (coach) knew I was struggling, but not to the extent (I was). I was bawling my eyes out and he just gave me the biggest hug and said ‘we need to get you out of here (swimming)’.
‘I can actually pinpoint a two-second frame that was the lowest point of my life, and his hand was the one that pulled me out,’ Jones said.
Leisel Jones (left) with colleague Margaux Parker. Jones now works in breakfast radio as well as studying for a psychology degree
Ahead of the 2012 London Olympics, Jones – while still dealing with the mental health demons of the year prior – was called fat by media outlets.
Jones is still emotional when it comes up a decade later.
Giaan Rooney, Leisel Jones, Petria Thomas and Henrie Jodie celebrate after winning the women’s 4×100 medley relay final at the Athens 2004 Olympics. It was Jones’ second team gold medal, but she had to wait until the following Games for her first Individual one
‘It hugely affected me, and that was a big part of my mental health journey,’ Jones said of the coverage of her weight leading up to the Olympics.
‘I needed so much psychological help, and had to go on antidepressants, which made me put on weight.
‘So to have someone comment on my personal appearance and things that have nothing to do with my performance at the time … I was at my fourth Olympics, so I just had to move past it, suck it up and get on with the job.
‘Even today I’m still unravelling a whole heap of emotional turmoil from that time. For a long time I was really angry about it.’
Fortunately, she has been able to unpack some of that trauma, and move on – though it is always a work in progress.
Leisel Jones, pictured at a social event in 2020, constantly works on her mental health and is currently a radio presenter in Queensland
Jones is currently studying psychology, working on radio and is aiming to do her honours once she finished her undergraduate degree, and while she said she’s going ‘good’ – there are still struggles she faces.
‘Life is good, but it’s still challenging and still working through all the belief systems I’ve got from my swimming career,’ she said.
‘One of the more difficult things once you’re a retired athlete, is when you’re the best in the world at something, it’s very hard to go to work when you aren’t the best in the world at what you do anymore.’
Jones said she is always working on mental health; regularly seeing a psychologist and taking medication when she needs it, though she isn’t currently.
For help in a crisis, call 000. If you or anyone you know needs support, you can contact Lifeline 13 11 14, or Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636.