While doing triple backflips every day, RBC Olympian Travis Gerrits had another challenge to navigate during his athletic career—living with bipolar disorder.
Gerrits is highly decorated internationally, from Silver Medal at the 2013 FIS World Championships, to Gold Medal at the 2014 FIS World Cup, to landing seventh place at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games. It was around that time Gerrits became public with his struggles and strongly advocated for mental health. He has joined the conversation with other athletes like Clara Hughes and Corey Hirsch who have opened up about overcoming their mental health hurdles.
Due to extensive travelling, competition loads, volumes of training and education, the amount of stress athletes carry is increased significantly. The Olympian takes care of himself mentally and physically by visiting a sports psychologist twice weekly, as well as physiotherapy and massage therapy, taking care of the physical stresses associated with high-level extreme sports.
Gerrits expresses finding the balance is key to performing at the highest level of international competitions and sometimes, having one goal in mind can make athletes feel sheltered. The dynamic is changing in the sports industry however, with more athletes, coaches and communities engaging in addressing the stigma in sports. Although their foundation of the conversations is sports-focused, anyone can relate. “I don’t think anyone individually isn’t necessarily, not affected by mental health,” Gerrits explains.
By researching illnesses, ways to cope, and speaking with others going through similar experiences, Gerrits learned everyone was experiencing it differently “regardless of any struggle or success.” He also learned each win, from winning a competition to just making it to math class, should be celebrated. “[Find] ways to celebrate those wins. For me, it was acknowledging it [by] writing it down—what I was happy about doing today or what I’m looking forward to doing tomorrow,” Gerrits says.
An upcoming event Gerrits looks forward to is actively participating in the RBC Race for the Kids Toronto on Sept 14. The initiative supports the Family Navigation Project at Sunnybrook, providing excellent mental health and addictions services for youth and their families.
“When we’re talking about 1.2 million young people in Canada experiencing these symptoms and then the fact that only one in five are getting help when they need it, it’s powerful to be behind a great cause making that difference,” Gerrits says. After the race, Gerrits talks with attendees from all ages—listening to their experiences, seeing what they are capable of and showing them he’s just as proud of them for sharing their stories.
Opening up about his mental health has impacted his life hugely in a positive way, professionally and personally. “It’s a great way to listen to acknowledging challenges in this world and learning to overcome certain things within the communities that we have around us,” Gerrits says.