Two-time national champion and Olympic bronze medalist Gracie Gold talks with the Juneau Empire about her upcoming speech at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé on Saturday, Sept. 10 at 6 p.m.

Two-time national champion and Olympic bronze medalist Gracie Gold talks with the Juneau Empire about her upcoming speech at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé on Saturday, Sept. 10 at 6 p.m.

Olympian takes time to talk mental health

Bronze medalist, 2-time champ to speak Saturday.

Gracie Gold said there’s no amount of money that could convince her to relive her adolescence, but the decorated figure skater also said there isn’t any advice she wished she could give her past self.

Gold, a two-time national champion and Olympic bronze medalist who is in Juneau for skating camp and Saturday evening speaking engagement, said she didn’t always listen to advice. Instead, she said a public service announcement might have been helpful.

“There’s a lot of information that I could have used, but I don’t know how receptive I might have been at that age, which I think is normal. I think mostly just to have a little more patience and have a little more grace with myself, (no pun intended.) More than advice I probably could have just used some PSAs; like this advice might resonate or might not right now, but most likely it probably won’t feel relevant for a few more years. I just feel like for a long time I was white-knuckling it, just living mentally in a way that life was unsustainable.”

Gold, who will give a free speech at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé sponsored by the Glacier Valley Rotary Club in which she will talk about her Olympic dreams and her subsequent mental health struggles with severe depression and an eating disorder. She’s also in town to provide a skate camp for Juneau skaters along with fellow skaters Jeremy Abbot and Geoffry Varner as coaches.

In 2017, Gold had a mental health crisis, forcing her to take a brief hiatus from the sport she’s loved since starting at the age of 13. Gold said she plans to share what it was like to have lived in an environment that didn’t really understand mental health while being on a national stage in a sport that is exceptionally manicured and rehearsed. Gold said her signs of depression were difficult to spot right away, but she especially took notice after a rough season that fall. Ultimately the struggle was accepting that someone in her position would have anything to be depressed about in the first place.

Gracie Gold will be answering questions and giving a free talk for Juneau area students and their families that will address the challenges she’s faced as an international competitor at such a young age. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

Gracie Gold will be answering questions and giving a free talk for Juneau area students and their families that will address the challenges she’s faced as an international competitor at such a young age. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

“A lot of it had to do with the idea of ‘What does Gracie Gold have to be depressed about?’ A lot of people knew the Gracie Gold that was kind of put forth through various NBC segments or skating magazine interviews, so people only knew what I wanted them to know, and it was pretty rehearsed and manicured,” Gold told the Juneau Empire. “I’m not super personable but when things started to go like this in my personal and home life and that translated into my career, it was hard because a lot of it was like ‘What do I have to be depressed about?’ I’ve done everything I’ve wanted to in this sport, I’m really accomplished and from the outside I have this perfect family and home life, and that was a struggle in terms of figuring out that mental health crisis’ don’t discriminate on age, gender, ethnicity, tax bracket, it can affect people from all walks of life.”

Gold said anxiety was one of the things she struggled with the most from skating, the idea of feeling as though she always had to put on an image of things appearing to be perfect while suppressing depression. Gold said one of the main lessons she learned through treatment was that it’s OK to start small on a long road to recovery.

“A big lesson I learned was that you don’t always have to be hopeful of the future or hopeful that treatment will fix everything, but that it’s enough to just be curious and in a lot of ways that curiosity that I had saved my life,” Gold said. “When I was going to treatment I wasn’t hopeful that it was going to make everything better, at that point it felt in many ways just beyond repair, but in some ways I was just curious if it could help at all or if it would be a fix, which led me to checking into a treatment facility in Arizona for 45 days.”

While Gold said being an Olympic figure skater isn’t necessarily something kids can relate to, the idea of anxiety associated with expectations certainly is. Gold said that while everything might not resonate with kids right now at this exact moment in their lives, sometimes hearing other people share having similar issues can be reassuring that you’re not the only one feeling a certain way.

“Just take what resonates and leave what doesn’t. My story in some ways is unique to me, just being an Olympic figure skater is a little bit of a niche point of view, I do acknowledge that, but that in some ways can probably make our stories really similar,” Gold said. “Like I said, mental health doesn’t discriminate and just because you should be fine or things seem to be going well on the outside, so if you start feeling like you’re living a way of life that is unsustainable in that you’re really not finding joy in anything or if you’ve noticed any kind of decline, that there is help to be found and if you confide in people, good news and bad news, the real people in your life will respond in an appropriate manner and will try to help you help yourself.”

Among many of the things figure skating has provided Gold over the years, she said she hopes to help younger people understand that it offers far more than just athletic skill, but a lot of attributes that establish character throughout your adult life.

“It requires a lot of hard work and dedication, it teaches you time management and responsibility,” Gold said. “Figure skating also teaches you how to get back up after you fall down, literally. There’s the saying fall down 7, get up 8, but in figure skating it’s more like fall down a million, get back up a million and one. It’s a literal embodiment of fall down and get back up. I think that’s a good lesson to learn, but it can still be a tough lesson to learn at any age.”

Olympic skater Jeremy Abbott joined Gold during her interview with the Juneau Empire on Friday and also offered insight into what figure skating has to offer through his experiences as a coach. Gold and Abbott are also in town as coaches to provide a skate camp for Juneau skaters. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

Olympic skater Jeremy Abbott joined Gold during her interview with the Juneau Empire on Friday and also offered insight into what figure skating has to offer through his experiences as a coach. Gold and Abbott are also in town as coaches to provide a skate camp for Juneau skaters. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

Abbott added: “When I talk to my students, they say it’s kind of like a mirror for their life because it teaches you discipline, it teaches you hard work, it teaches you time management and responsibility, but it also teaches you perseverance and understanding that pathways in life aren’t linear and there are going to be really good days and there are going to be really hard days and it’s just about putting in that one percent effort to continually grow because even if skating isn’t the challenge in your life, there’s going to be other challenges that you have to tackle and this is a very easy and controllable way to face those challenges head on and that teaches you how to deal with other challenges, as well.”

Know & Go

What: Gracie Gold speech and Q&A

When: 6 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 10.

Where: Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé

• Contact reporter Jonson Kuhn at jonson.kuhn@juneauempire.com.

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