Mental Health Awareness Week: Michael Gunning and Harry Needs on how ‘strength of friendship’ is supporting swimmer’s Olympics quest | Swimming News

Mental Health Awareness Week: Michael Gunning and Harry Needs on how ‘strength of friendship’ is supporting swimmer’s Olympics quest | Swimming News
Mental Health Awareness Week: Michael Gunning and Harry Needs on how ‘strength of friendship’ is supporting swimmer’s Olympics quest | Swimming News

Michael Gunning is bidding to signify Jamaica at Tokyo 2020 in what can be his first Olympic Games

With simply 70 days to go earlier than the scheduled begin of the Tokyo Olympics, athletes around the globe are desirous about the ultimate levels of their Games preparations.

However, the continuing lack of readability over competing in Japan – the place coronavirus instances are once more rising – continues to play on their minds, whereas an online petition to cancel Tokyo 2020 altogether can be gathering momentum throughout the nation.

Swimmer Michael Gunning is hoping to signify Jamaica in what can be his first Olympics. Born and primarily based in Britain, the query marks surrounding the Games develop ever extra disconcerting.

“It’s the uncertainty,” he tells Sky Sports. “No two days have been the identical for me – at some point I’ve been blissful and actually motivated, different days I’ve been low and actually struggling.

“One of the issues that has bought me via is speaking to different athletes, figuring out that we’re all in the identical storm however in several boats.”

Gunning's favoured event is the 200m butterfly for which he holds the national record

Gunning’s favoured occasion is the 200m butterfly for which he holds the nationwide file

The tempestuous ups and downs of the pandemic are nonetheless testing us all and in Mental Health Awareness Week, individuals from throughout sport and society have been talking out concerning the pressures they face.

Elite athletes like Gunning are having to work laborious simply to take care of focus – he describes it as “controlling the controllable”. In pursuit of choice in his favoured occasion of 200m butterfly, for which he holds the nationwide file, the 27-year-old will head to a meet in Glasgow early subsequent month after which hopes to race in Rome later in June.

Helping to maintain him targeted is his greatest good friend and housemate Harry Needs. A former aggressive swimmer himself who represented Great Britain at worldwide stage, Needs stepped away from the game after the frustration of lacking out on London 2012.

Now working as a private coach and graphic designer, he is a necessary sounding board and ethical help for Gunning. Together, they’ve navigated the uneven waters thrown at them by COVID-19.

Gunning and Harry Needs became firm friends through swimming and as housemates, they have supported one another during a tough 15 months

Gunning and Harry Needs turned agency associates via swimming and as housemates, they’ve supported each other throughout a troublesome 15 months

For a very long time, Gunning could not even get in a leisure centre attributable to lockdown restrictions and needed to practice in a pop-up pool within the again backyard of the house close to Stockport the place he lives with Needs. He feels lucky to now be firmly again on monitor along with his build-up to Tokyo and says the worth of secure friendship in turbulent instances shouldn’t be underestimated.

“I’m very fortunate that I stay with my greatest good friend – not many individuals get to say that!” says Gunning.

“With Harry, I’ve been coming residence and simply venting how I really feel. It actually does assist to share that with somebody.”

Record breakers after tragedy and trauma

Having each come via the British swimming programme – Gunning switched to signify Jamaica in 2016 – they’ve at all times been on the identical wavelength in terms of sport, however their bond has been strengthened by a sequence of challenges they’ve helped one another overcome. They are eager to speak a message of brotherhood as this consciousness week about psychological wellbeing attracts to a detailed.

“Maybe that is why we’re related so nicely as greatest associates – we’re simply captivated with wanting to assist others on this,” says Needs.

“We share quite a bit via our personal social platforms, within the hope that we will encourage individuals and assist them discover their happiness. Life is so brief – one in every of our closest associates is terminally in poor health in the meanwhile and that is one thing that is once more altering perspective for us.

“We need to advocate for issues which can be necessary to us and encourage everybody to be allies in several methods.”

Needs is especially nicely positioned to debate males’s psychological well being in a constructive, considerate approach. In the previous few years, he has needed to spend appreciable time taking inventory of his personal wellbeing. He was beforehand in a long-term relationship with the two-time Olympic gold medallist Becky Adlington – a yr after getting married, the couple celebrated the delivery of their daughter. However, 9 months later, they’d separated.

With Needs nonetheless adjusting to the modifications in his private circumstances, there was the added trauma that got here with having attended the Ariana Grande live performance on the Manchester Arena in May 2017, when 22 individuals – a few of them kids – have been killed in a terror assault. He had gone to the gig with Gunning, who has previously discussed the horror of being caught up in the aftermath of the bombing.

The accumulation of a number of life occasions took a heavy toll on Needs. “There have been a number of hardships in my life via 2016 and 2017. Michael and I skilled the Manchester bombings collectively, and that got here on the again finish of the non-public stuff I had happening – a household bereavement, in addition to going via a public divorce.

“It put me into a very unhealthy headspace, to the purpose the place I attempted to take my very own life. Luckily, I did not reach that.

“With the assistance of associates and thru opening up extra, I grew into this house the place I felt like I’d wish to see extra of a change. I can solely do this by making different individuals conscious, by sharing my very own story, not as a result of I just like the limelight however I really feel that if you may make your self weak, it is perhaps inspiring to another person.”

Needs and Gunning used their swimming network to raise thousands of pounds for charity and make a strong statement about the importance of promoting good mental health

Needs and Gunning used their swimming community to lift hundreds of kilos for charity and make a robust assertion concerning the significance of selling good psychological well being

In May 2019, he channelled his vitality into a Guinness World Record attempt which carried a message selling optimistic psychological well being.

“I organized a charity occasion – 100 swimmers, together with myself and Michael, who would swim 50m every to interrupt a world file. We did it by a few minutes – we completely annihilated it. That was to lift funds for Mind. We made a ton of cash, and we still hold the record now!”

The occasion was held on the pool in Stockport the place Gunning trains and Needs teaches lessons as a part of his PT enterprise. Yet when Britain lurched into lockdown in March 2020, the place that offers each males objective was shut off from them. Within weeks, the Olympics was postponed, throwing Gunning right into a vortex of hysteria.

“This time final yr, I used to be going via fairly a darkish time,” he says. “When the swimming pools and every little thing shut down, I had no concept the place I used to be speculated to be. I’d discover myself mendacity in mattress later within the mornings, as I did not have a routine.

“Not having that constructed the strain much more. I knew that I must be understanding and conserving up to the mark, however I simply wasn’t doing it.”

Training laborious, sharing a fact

With Needs’ assist, he bought his groove again and developed another programme that factored within the every day freestyle and butterfly strokes within the yard pool, in addition to residence exercises and contemporary coaching and dietary choices. “I felt much more mentally secure with that.

“A yr later, I have not been capable of go to competitions and race, and I have not but earned my place on the group. It’s nonetheless a ready recreation. So, it is now about doing every little thing that I can that is in my management. If I qualify and the Games go forward, I’ll know that I’ve executed every little thing I presumably can.”

For his half, Needs has change into a convert to the invigorating advantages of open-water swimming and profiting from the good outdoor, linking in with the ‘Connect With Nature’ theme of Mental Health Awareness Week 2021.

As nicely as conserving an eye fixed out for one another as mates, the challenges of residence education (Gunning is godfather to Needs’ daughter, Summer, who he co-parents with Adlington) and chasing after canines Picasso and Monet have ensured each males are busy away from their particular train regimes too.

Meanwhile, Needs skilled one other optimistic wellbeing second final June when, writing on his Instagram, he mentioned his experiences of being bisexual. It was the primary time he’d shared that a part of who he’s in public.

“The stars aligned for me – it was Men’s Health Week, Father’s Day, and the tip of Pride Month – and it felt like the appropriate time,” he explains.

“It was about embracing my authenticity, and truly popping out of lockdown being who I actually am and feeling assured with that.

“I needed to share within the hope that different individuals do not oppress how they’re really desirous about themselves.”

Needs and ex-wife Becky Adlington have a five-year-old daughter, with godfather Gunning lending a hand with childcare - and even home schooling

Needs and ex-wife Becky Adlington have a five-year-old daughter, with godfather Gunning lending a hand with childcare – and even residence education

Arriving at that juncture was the results of self-care and self-awareness. “For me, it was a couple of vacation spot to like. I assume as a result of I used to be at all times blissful within the heterosexual relationships I used to be in, that if I used to be in love, there was no want to say it – and I used to be in love at 17, and dedicated in a really long-term relationship.

“So up till my mid-20s, there was by no means actually that chance to discover my true authenticity, regardless that I knew that that is who I used to be deep down.

“In brief, it does not matter who I’m with primarily based on gender. I’m not likely too fussed so long as I’m blissful, the person who I’m with is blissful, and hopefully my associates are blissful for me too.”

He’s shortly reassured of that by a nod and smile from Gunning, who went on an identical journey below the gaze of a actuality TV present viewers – he took a brief break from sport in 2018 to participate in The Bi Life, having beforehand tended to skip over ideas on his personal sexuality attributable to being immersed within the lifetime of an elite swimmer. Through the expertise, he discovered much more about himself.

“I’d by no means understood my emotions to different individuals earlier than,” he says. “At the time, there have been a number of questions. I assumed, let me simply go and discover and see who I’m.

“With the phrases all of us should outline ourselves, it will possibly really feel scary to label or restrict your self. When I’m in my swimming bubble, it isn’t a precedence. But now I do know that I’m positively homosexual – happening the present helped me get in tune with my emotions.”

Needs watched with curiosity, supporting his greatest good friend, and over the time that adopted, he grew extra assured round his personal id.

“I used to be so undereducated on LGBTQ+ tradition,” he admits. “I’d by no means actually explored my very own private sexuality. I felt that if I’d self-identified as one thing, it could be hypocritical of me – to say that I’m one thing with out exploring that facet of myself.”

Needs also swam butterfly during his competitive swimming career representing Great Britain

Needs additionally swam butterfly throughout his aggressive swimming profession representing Great Britain

Being in a same-sex relationship for the primary time throughout 2019 was a pure improvement, and discovering that the help from household and associates was stronger than ever after he opened as much as them, he was able to reply affirmatively when a query got here up in an ‘ask me something’ session along with his Instagram followers.

“Using my very own social media was a approach of controlling the narrative. So many instances, tales could be misconstrued. It’s necessary to have an genuine message in the event you’re making an attempt to be true to your private journey.”

There was some subsequent pick-up within the media, and extra interview requests – and each housemates ready themselves for doable assumptions. “We thought individuals would run off and suppose that we have been in a relationship,” says Gunning. “When two individuals come out within the methods we had executed, after which if we’re residing collectively, that is only a factor. But we’re not!” They each chortle. “I could not put up with him in a relationship!”

They have been safe sufficient of their friendship in order to not fear unduly. Needs explains: “We’re nonetheless making an attempt to interrupt stereotypes of two queer males residing collectively as greatest associates – it is robotically categorised as one thing it isn’t. You could be emotionally mature sufficient to stay together with your greatest good friend and simply need the very best for each other.”

Gunning agrees on the necessity to transfer away from stereotypes, significantly in sport. “There’s a strain that is put down on males to behave a sure approach, to suit into this picture of what a person must be like – particularly an athlete as nicely. We’ve bought to interrupt away from that. We want our personal identities, and to be recognized for ourselves relatively than being that ‘masculine man’.”

Challenging Covid, inspiring confidence

The festive interval introduced sudden, extra stress. Gunning hoped to journey residence to see his household in Kent, at a time earlier than the pre-Christmas lockdown was introduced. He took a coronavirus take a look at to verify that he can be protected to journey however was shocked when it got here again optimistic.

“We have been so good. We did not exit, we caught to the principles. The swimming pools have been open again then so I will need to have caught it at swimming, or one thing that I touched,” says Gunning.

“Everyone bought examined round us and so they have been all effective. So, we stopped and remoted at residence. I actually felt for Harry as a result of nobody needs to be taken away from their daughter at Christmas and I felt liable for that.”

They every developed signs – first Gunning, after which Needs – however have been capable of shake off the virus inside a couple of days of one another. “We have been very low, psychological health-wise,” says Needs, “due to the sacrifices we have been having to make to maintain everybody else round us protected. I’m glad we’ve such a robust friendship; we’d have struggled much more with out that.

“I’d urge individuals to not underestimate the virus – preserve doing what the federal government are advising. If somebody as match as both of us could be affected, it exhibits you could do the appropriate factor.”

There have been no lasting results – Gunning was quickly again at peak health – and he’s now relishing his forthcoming journeys to Scotland and Italy, and the excitement of hitting his greatest butterfly instances when it actually counts. He senses a shift in elite swimming in direction of being extra inclusive, though on a world scale, it is nonetheless difficult. It’s one thing he is thought of within the strategy to May 17, which is the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia.

“Going to competitions around the globe, I’ve seen that generally I’ve been handled in a different way,” he says. “That’s not essentially in a foul approach – some individuals do not actually know what they’ll say. But exhibiting that and treating me in a different way are types of homophobia.”

Gunning regularly uses his platform on social media and in his role as a Stonewall Sport Champion to talk about equality and inclusion

Gunning repeatedly makes use of his platform on social media and in his position as a Stonewall Sport Champion to speak about equality and inclusion

He mentions how at sure occasions, there are kinds that athletes are requested to fill out and a few have a range and inclusion part. “On sexuality, up to now I’ve put ‘favor to not say’ – however definitely this summer time or in any competitors now actually, I’ll proudly write ‘homosexual’ on there. Educating others on what it means to be LGBT+, what individuals undergo and their experiences, can actually assist.”

Raising consciousness round what’s particularly biphobic is necessary too, says Needs. “The false impression of being bisexual is that you simply’re grasping, or that you are a sure ‘share’ in what you are sexually interested in.

“I feel everyone seems to be on a spectrum and mine is continually interchanging. That could be fairly complicated for others because it modifications from day after day, however actually it is concerning the reference to the individual, much more than simply the gender.”

They’re each comfy describing themselves as queer too, and wish to assist with some schooling round that phrase in sport. “I really feel it is a pleasant time period – it isn’t confining me to an area. For occasion, I do not like that we’ve ‘straight’ golf equipment and ‘homosexual’ golf equipment – so the place do you go in the event you’re bisexual?”

Watching the midweek Brit Awards – an occasion totally embracing of creativity and variety that included a memorable rendition of ‘It’s A Sin’ Olly Alexander and Sir Elton John – inspired them each to ponder what sport would possibly be taught from the world of leisure. Over 50 athletes who have been LGBT+ and out participated at Rio 2016, and it is estimated that the quantity will greater than double at Tokyo 2020.

“It’s wonderful to see that illustration,” says Gunning. “When we come again to sport with the Olympics and subsequent yr’s Commonwealth Games, by seeing those who are within the LGBT+ group simply being their genuine selves, it may be an enormous inspiration for individuals watching at residence.”

Needs agrees. “I feel sport will head that approach, to the purpose the place individuals do really feel included and genuine. It’s nearly how they get the boldness to get there, significantly in extremely masculine sports activities. It will change however except you begin to see extra individuals open up and share their very own tales, that change isn’t going to occur. I’d urge individuals to maintain advocating, whether or not they have an enormous or small platform, to get that throughout.”

Communicating a bit bit extra about themselves has definitely boosted the psychological well being of each males. Gunning thinks again to the charity swim which Needs organised. “So many individuals bought in contact and shared what they’d been via, the highs and lows, as a part of that occasion. It bought us all speaking, and I assume we have been capable of construct on that within the lockdown intervals.”

The common uncertainty of Covid-19 is not over but however maybe it is helped us tune into what actually issues. “You query it way more now, the way it’s affected every of us and our psychological well being,” says Needs. “It brings you again to that core message – it is about being type to individuals.”

Sky Sports is a member of TeamPride which helps Stonewall’s Rainbow Laces campaign. Your story of being LGBT+ or an ally may assist to make sport everybody’s recreation. To focus on additional, please contact us here.

Recommended For You

About the Author: Adrian

Leave a Reply