The depression starts to creeps in if David Boudia focuses on the “what ifs” of life.
It doesn’t impact the three-time Olympic diver as much as it used to. After he found a new faith in God, he learned to manage it. Boudia will compete in the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in the 10-meter platform and 10-meter synchronized platform events.
But during his freshman and sophomore years at Purdue University, when he thought his life revolved around diving, he struggled.
“I was severely depressed, and suicidal thoughts came in,” Boudia said. “My freshman year … I thought diving was my world.”
By his sophomore years, Boudia was drinking and partying heavily, desperate to make up for his lack of a “normal” high-school experience after he spent most of his time training for the Olympics, and then didn’t medal in Beijing in 2008. Now, Boudia has a gold medal he won in the 10-meter platform in 2012 and is a 20-time national champion.
“Though I was battling depression, I was able to mask it by trying to be the popular guy on campus,” Boudia said in a post on his website. “Since people knew I was an Olympian, this was a chance for me to get the fame and the glory that I craved.”
His satisfaction started coming from drinking instead of diving, and he was pushing his friends away. He knew something needed to change, so he approached his coach, Adam Soldati.
Soldati introduced Boudia to Jesus and helped him turn his life around, Boudia said at a media day at Purdue in July.
“When you do life alone, it’s extremely hard,” Boudia said. “When you’re pushing everyone out and it’s just you, that’s when those thoughts of depression come in.”
For Boudia, the dark thoughts start when he dwells too much on what he could have, rather than what he does have. When he stays focused and remembers that everything is not about him, that’s when he feels his best. He knows he needs to focus on serving God and the people around him.
Finding his faith has helped him realize that diving is not his entire life, a belief his synchronized diving partner Steele Johnson shares.
“[My life is] rooted in what is so much greater than just doing flips off a platform into a pool,” Johnson said about what Boudia has taught him. “Whether you win or lose, it’s still a victory in Christ. That’s so much cooler and so much more exciting than anything diving can offer.”
It’s with that faith and trust that helped Boudia realize diving was something he did, not who he was.
He’s come a long way from the teenager who bawled in the bathroom for an hour after failing to medal in both of his events in Beijing.
Even now, Boudia doesn’t want his legacy to be all about the medals. He wants to be remembered for his diving, of course, but also for who he was as a person.
“I want it to be all about my teammates, I want it to be all about my family, and more importantly, I want it to be all about my faith,” Boudia said.
Because of the pivotal impact Purdue and his coach have had on his life, Boudia chose to plant his roots in West Lafayette with his wife and 1-year-old daughter. He has a strong support circle there, and that makes his fight against depression easier.
“[Boudia] found a relationship with Jesus Christ…and found freedom in Christ,” Soldati said.
And Boudia holds strong to the knowledge that although diving is a huge part of his life, it doesn’t define who he is.
“My soul is so much more calm knowing that at the end of the day, whether I win or lose, it’s still the same identity I had going into the competition.”
Kara Berg is a Ball State University student and writer for BSU at the Games, a group of 50 journalism students traveling from Muncie, Indiana to Rio for the Olympic Games. Follow them at bsuatthegames.com, @bsuatthegames on Twitter and Instagram, and BSU at the Games on Facebook.
Photos: Stephanie Amador and Kara Berg