ANY GIVEN MONDAY
You may have heard of Brad Smeele, whose "tragic" story caromed across the country's news desks in 2014.
The champion wakeboarder was left a quadriplegic after shattering his C4 vertebrae attempting a double backflip in Lake Ronix, Florida.
Smeele, 32, spoke at a high school breakfast last week and the reason why the tragic in the introduction was given the inverted-commas treatment is that his is now a message of hope.
Smeele spoke matter-of-factly about the accident and movingly of the aftermath. He said there were times when he was lying hopelessly on his bed thinking about all he had lost – which was, essentially, the use of his limbs – where he wished there was a button he could have pushed to end his life.
Well, he corrected himself, he wouldn't have been able to push it himself, but we all knew what he meant.
This despair, to paraphrase, was because he'd spent his whole life defining himself through physical acts. Whether it was through his self-taught carpentry skills or his outrageous wakeboarding ability, his identity, his entire sense of self, was wrapped up in physical attributes.
When that was taken away from him, what was he left with?
The question is worth pondering in a week when the All Blacks Rugby World Cup squad had a self-imposed omission, the NFL was rocked by the early retirement of one of its biggest stars and another similarly early retiree was left in tears explaining how the sport he once loved had left him in a "bad place".
There were mixed messages in the lead-up to the All Blacks' naming as to rawboned loose forward Liam Squire's availability, something the player himself went some way to explaining in the aftermath.
"I felt I wasn't ready just yet physically or mentally for the pressures of test match rugby," Squire explained.
Having never met Liam Squire, it pays to be careful playing amateur psychologist. If we did happen to be stuck on a skifield chairlift together, there's every chance the wellspring of conversation would start and end at: "Pretty cold, aye?"
But you can't help but look at that short sentence and assume the second adverb is inextricably linked to the first; that his mental state mirrors his physical state.
This was certainly the case with Rob Gronkowski. He retired following a short but glittering career as a tight end for the New England Patriots. He's now hawking cannabinoid medical products but revealed that he spent the night after winning last season's Super Bowl crying in his bed. The final straw was needing to have a litre of fluid drained out of his thigh after a seemingly innocuous tackle.
"I was not in a good place. Football was bringing me down, and I didn't like it. I was losing that joy in life," a tearful Gronkowski said.
Then there was Andrew Luck, one of the best-paid players in the NFL, the quarterback of the storied Indianapolis Colts, retiring on the eve of the season. Like Gronkowski, he was just 29 years old.
"I'm in pain… It's been four years of this pain, rehab cycle," Luck said, before adding that he was tired, "and not just in a physical sense."
There is a school of thought, a particularly noxious school but one with a large roll nevertheless, that all this whining about mental health is just another sign that we don't breed 'em as tough as we used to.
Perhaps the better way to look at it is that we now breed them too tough. Way too tough. We should wrap the quaint old term "contact sport" up in a ball-and-all tackle and drop it on its head because it is no longer fit for purpose. These guys now play "collision sports" and they're doing it with bigger, stronger bodies controlled by, arguably, less well-rounded brains.
This is not to say they're stupider. Far from it. What it does say though is the pathways of professional sport are now so well lit that few stray from them.
From ludicrously young ages athletes are told they are rugby players, league players, footballers. It becomes not what they do but who they are. They are often lauded for their single-minded pursuit of these sporting goals. They are rewarded, often handsomely, for it.
The knock-on effect is that when the one tool they have that keeps them at the top of their game – their body - starts faltering, it doesn't just affect what they do, but who they are.
The modern athlete is not softer. You'd be a fool to think that. They might be more aware of the dangers of what they're doing to themselves but that just makes them more informed not more coddled.
Squire might be the most high-profile case of someone who is trying to reconcile what his mind wants and his body will allow, but you can guarantee that bubbling below the surface there will be hundreds like him across a multitude of sports and levels who are struggling, and may never have their stories told.
So how did the man who once defined himself by his physical prowess, who no longer had any hope of regaining the use of his limbs, regain his joy for life?
Smeele says he hates the word "acceptance" because it sounds like a synonym for "submissive" but the essence of his mental recovery lay there.
He accepted that his physical limitations would prevent him doing what he used to do so instead focused on potential areas for growth – that is to say, his mind.
His is a lesson that should be applied universally to all athletes: the body might be great, but the mind is an even more amazing tool that must be nurtured.
It can take you to amazing places.
Smeele used to be a champion wakeboarder; he's now a quadriplegic free diver. He's pretty stoked with that.
THE MONDAY LONG LISTEN ...
Fantastic storytelling about when race and sport collided in the NBA.
WHERE TO GET HELP:
If you are worried about your or someone else's mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call 111.
If you need to talk to someone, the following free helplines operate 24/7:
DEPRESSION HELPLINE: 0800 111 757
LIFELINE: 0800 543 354
NEED TO TALK? Call or text 1737
SAMARITANS: 0800 726 666
YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633 or text 234
There are lots of places to get support. For others, click here