Hollie Arnold 'not in a good place' mentally after Tokyo Paralympics postponement

By Tom BrownBBC Sport Wales
Paralympian Arnold reveals mental health struggles

Paralympic javelin champion Hollie Arnold has revealed she had to overcome "three or four months" of mental health struggles after the Tokyo Paralympics was postponed.

But the four-time world champion says she is in a much better place now as she builds towards the rearranged Tokyo Games this summer.

The Paralympics begin in 150 days.

Their postponement left 26-year-old Arnold feeling she had "lost the structure in her life".

"I just struggled," she told BBC Sport Wales.

"I couldn't train. It was like a mental block. I didn't have any 'oomph' in me at all to try to do something, which made me feel guilty.

"I could've quit athletics. I have no idea. That time and in that period of my life I was not in a good place.

Hollie Arnold celebrates on the podium at the Rio 2016 Paralympics
Hollie Arnold won Paralympic gold in the F46 javelin at Rio 2016

"I won't use the word depressed or depression, but I know I went through something myself. I know it's good to talk about and be honest and open.

"I think that's what got me through the last few months of pure hell - for everybody."

'Maybe I needed a break'

When the first lockdown began in March 2020, Arnold - like everyone - was forced to stay at home, with any training sessions mainly taking place in her garden.

She says it was late summer before she really started training properly again.

It was a long road back and she credits her family, friends and coach David Turner for allowing her to recover at her own pace.

"We [my coach and I] went to a field where we could throw javelin," she recalls.

"It was nowhere near Loughborough's high performance centre - it was an old cricket field, it was empty and the sun was shining. And that's when it slowly started to click.

"My happiness started to come back and my love for javelin and sport blossomed a little bit. From then, I felt like I was coming out of it.

Hollie Arnold holds the Wales flag at the 2018 Commonwealth Games
Arnold is the reigning Paralympic, World, European and Commonwealth champion

"I knew the goal was 2021, but that was too far away. Let's do the little steps and the little goals in life.

"It took me a while, but I'm glad it happened. Maybe I needed a break."

A celebrity appearance

Arnold ended 2020 with an appearance on the programme I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here! - filmed in Wales, rather than Australia, because of the coronavirus pandemic.

It coincided with her being in a much happier state of mind and she says the experience was overwhelmingly positive.

"I'm still shocked I actually went on this show," she smiles. "Just the things I did. Like putting my hand in snakes.

"It was just one of those moments where you're kind of looking down at yourself. This is not normal. I'm an athlete.

"I did not want to be medically exempt from anything. I made that very clear. Because I wanted to show people with and without a disability, just go for it.

"I don't like the word inspiration, but I've had so many incredible messages.

"People have said about their kids wanting to get involved in the Paralympics and to me that's just amazing. That's the best outcome I wanted from going on there."

Hollie Arnold preparing to throw the javelin at the 2019 World Para Athletics Championships
In November 2019 Arnold won her fourth consecutive world title - but she has not competed since

Arnold has not even competed since the World Para Athletics Championships way back in November 2019.

But in exactly 150 days her chance to win a second Paralympic gold will finally arrive.

"I'm excited, nervous, uncertain," she says. "I feel a ray of emotions.

"It's looking more likely that friends and family can't go. That's going to make me really sad. But I'd rather the Games go ahead and athletes be able to go out there and fight for what they love.

"This Games needs to happen. It's not just about the athletes - it's the people around the world who love watching it."

But even for the reigning Paralympic, world, European and Commonwealth champion, more success in Tokyo will be far from straightforward.

Arnold's long-standing rival Holly Robinson set a new world record in 2019 and will likely push her all the way for Paralympic gold.

"I might have won gold previously, but it's going out and defending titles that is so much harder," Arnold says.

"You have the pressure. Everyone's looking at you. They know you're Paralympic champion and they want to beat you.

"For me it'd be going out and proving to people who I am and what I do. And it's normal to have ups and downs in life.

"But at the end of it, it's taking that medal home. Fingers crossed, I can."

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