SYDNEY: Basketball great Lauren Jackson has revealed her “nightmare” of prescription drug dependency as the star centre and other prominent Australian athletes detailed the difficulties of adapting to life after sport.
The four-time Olympic medallist, who retired last year after almost 20 years due to injury, said she misused medication in a bid to continue her glittering international career and then struggled to get off it.
“I mean, to be honest, I really don’t want to even talk about what I was on publicly, but it was enough to make me go … I had to stop,” she told broadcaster ABC’s Four Corners program on Monday evening.
“You’re getting paid a lot of money to perform, and when you’re a franchise player or someone that is expected to perform day in, day out, you do what you have to do to get by.
“For me, that was pain killers, you know? And sleeping pills, generally.
“Oh my god it was just a nightmare.
“So, having to get off everything was really, really, really hard.”
Jackson, the first non-American and the youngest woman to be named Most Valuable Player in the United States’ WNBA league in 2003, said she also suffered depression and urged more support for retiring athletes.
“The government puts in a lot of money into making us as finely-tuned as possible so that we can win medals at Olympic Games, world championships and things like that,” she said.
“It’s a bit like being put out to pasture when you retire. There has to be just a little bit more support through that process.”
The post-career struggles of former top athletes has gained prominence in recent times with several high-profile stars struggling, notably swimmer Grant Hackett who sought help for mental health problems.
Fellow swimmer Stephanie Rice, who won three gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, said she also confronted personal demons.
“You are now in this position of being 25 to 30 and having no clue what you’re going to do with the next 50 years of your life,” she told the ABC.
“And all your peers and everyone else around you has already gone through that when they were at uni, figuring it out, and now they’re in their journey.