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Allison Schmitt Opens Up About Post-Olympic Depression

By Jeff Hawkins | May 20, 2015, 12:50 p.m. (ET)

Allison Schmitt poses for a portrait at Meadowbrook Aquatic & Fitness Center on June 25, 2014 in Baltimore.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Seeing the disappointment in the eyes of an unknown little girl, Allison Schmitt felt compelled to reach out.

The little girl's mother could not at the time afford the extra expenditure of a Halloween costume. Schmitt saw the way the little girl admired the yellow princess outfit. The two-time Olympian discreetly asked the mother if she could help.

"It was the best money I ever spent," Schmitt said Saturday at Arena Pro Swim Series in Charlotte, North Carolina.

The personal insight was initially relayed a few hours earlier by her former college coach at University of Georgia, Jack Bauerle.

"I got a call from a friend who witnessed her do it," Bauerle said. "I don't think it was the first time she's done something like that.

"That's Schmitty."

The gesture came from a college student who the previous year captured five medals at the London 2012 Olympic Games. It also came from an athlete who was secretly living with what she now describes as post-Olympic depression, a torment that took Schmitt nearly two years to talk about publicly.

Her eyes suddenly started to tear. Last week, Schmitt's first cousin, a Division I basketball recruit, committed suicide.

"We're a close family, April and I shared many similarities." Schmitt said. “I'll always cherish memories like our last vacation together this past summer — paddle boarding and losing the GoPro in the Atlantic Ocean." 

The sudden loss helped propel Schmitt to begin speaking out on providing aid to any athlete who suffers from debilitating anxiety outside of sports, with a goal of encouraging people to seek help by speaking out.

"For two years ... I had a hard time," Schmitt said. "It's been tough for me. Really tough. It has taken me two years to open up about it. I couldn't talk about it.

"I just want people to know it is OK to ask for help."

Post-Olympic tragedies are well documented. U.S. freestyle skier Jeret "Speedy" Peterson earned a silver medal during the 2010 Vancouver Games. A year later, he killed himself.

Schmitt wants the cycle to stop.

"I know it’s not easy to ask for help, but it’s OK to do so." she said.

A resident of Canton, Michigan, Schmitt captured gold medals in the 200-meter freestyle, and the 4x200-meter freestyle and 4x100-meter medley events. She also earned a silver medal in 400-meter freestyle and bronze in the 4x100-meter freestyle. As a teenager during the Beijing 2008 Games, Schmitt won a bronze in the 4x200-meter freestyle.

After returning from the London Games, Schmitt returned to Georgia, helped the team win a national championship, and earned her degree in 2013. For much of that year, Schmitt continued to act like "awesome Schmitty," as three-time Olympian Natalie Coughlin described her Saturday.

"She puts a smile on your face," Coughlin said. "She has an infectious laugh."

Now Schmitt is attempting to pull herself completely out of her post-Olympic depression to make a run at her third Olympic appearance. Schmitt said she plans to be more active in her mental health advocacy by opening up herself and making athletes aware that help is available. She also is planning a move to Tempe, Arizona, this summer to train full-time under coach Bob Bowman, who recently accepted the head coaching position at Arizona State University.

"I think she will welcome the change in scenery," Bauerle said. "When you are at the top, there are a lot of ebbs and flows, but I've seen her do a lot of things for a lot of people."

By beginning to speak out on post-Olympic depression, she could start helping a lot more.

Jeff Hawkins is a reporter from the Charlotte area. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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Allison Schmitt