22 Sep 2020

Comm Games champ and depression: "It's been a critical journey"

11:20 am on 22 September 2020

New Zealand mountain biker Sam Gaze is in the picturesque medieval Spanish town of Girona preparing for the resumption of the European season, something that a year ago may not have appeared possible.

New Zealand mountain bike rider Sam Gaze.

Sam Gaze Photo: PHOTOSPORT

It wasn't because of the coronavirus pandemic, rather the 24 year old was dealing with his mental health.

Gaze's career went on hold following a crash in an event in South Africa in April 2019 and it wasn't long after that that his mental health issues came to the surface.

"I suffered a pretty bad head injury on the first stage of the Cape Epic and there were a lot of things over the year before that which added to it including my disappointment at the Commonwealth Games and a few other things."

Gaze was fined for unsportsmanlike behaviour towards his teammate Anton Cooper during the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast.

"I felt I wasn't true to myself and yeh cracks appeared and after the crash the floodgates opened and I ended up having a bit of a hard time last year freaking myself out and trying to get myself back to the happy enjoyable athlete I usually am."

Gaze was officially diagnosed with depression and says he's spent the last 18 months picking up the pieces.

Jaroslav Kulhavy and Sam Gaze during  the 2019 Cape Epic Mountain Bike race in South Africa.

Sam Gaze competing in South Africa Photo: PHOTOSPORT

"When you're like that and in that situation, it stops being about the sport and results sheet and rather about getting yourself healthy."

"There was a lot of work that needed to be done internally for myself to reset my values in the sport and be true to those, but yeh like now I feel I'm in a good spot."

"It's been a critical journey to get through to where I am now."

He credits his new Belgian team Alpecin-Fenix and owner Philip Roodhooft for playing a major part on his road to recovery.

"Now I look back at it and I'm pretty grateful for everyone's help, obviously the result sheet hasn't been what it could have been the last 18 months, but me as an athlete and me as a person has grown a lot through this."

"I'm sure it is going to aid me for the longevity of my career rather than just a standout result here and there."

Gaze spent lockdown in New Zealand, but returned to Europe at the end of June to get his cycling back on track.

New Zealand's Samuel Gaze celebrates winning the mountain bike race as team mate Anton Cooper looks on.

Sam Gaze Commonwealth Games champion Photo: PhotoSport

He now has the World Championships in Austria next month to look forward to.

However Gaze hasn't set himself any career goals at this stage.

"No it's still early days, obviously with the craziness of corona and everything that has gone on with the Olympics being postponed has changed and so for now it's just building myself up and aiming to be the best possible version of an athlete that I can for next season and the Olympic Games if they go ahead."

"For these upcoming events I don't have any result based goals, its more feeling based."

"I want to race bikes for the right reason, there shouldn't be any difference between the feeling you have as an eight year old racing the bike around the house to racing the biggest bike race in the world."

Where to get help:

Need to Talk? Free call or text 1737 any time to speak to a trained counsellor, for any reason.

Lifeline: 0800 543 354 or text HELP to 4357

Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 / 0508 TAUTOKO (24/7). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.

Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757 (24/7) or text 4202

Youthline: 0800 376 633 (24/7) or free text 234 (8am-12am), or email talk@youthline.co.nz

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.