Double Olympian opens up on mental struggles after illness scuppered her medal dreams
Double Olympic swimmer Melanie Nocher says she went into hiding and fell into despair after a vomiting bug shattered her medal dreams at London 2012.
The mum-of-two (33), from Holywood, Co Down, also said she disappeared into a “rabbit hole” mentally after the heartbreak.
Melanie, who now lives in England, fell ill with gastroenteritis the night before she was due to compete at London 2012.
The bug left her drained and unable to perform properly at what should have been the climax of her career.
Now nearly a decade later she is finally coming to terms with what happened to her but told Sunday Life she initially tried to forget who she was.
She said: “After 2012 I just wanted to shut it out and not deal with it, I probably dealt with it in the stereotypical way people might think a man would, I just swept it under the rug.
“I knew I couldn’t go back and make it better and I had retired so it was my last race so I just knew that it was over. I was very reluctant to confront it but by doing that I made it worse.
“I wouldn’t talk about it and didn’t deal with it because I was so ashamed of what had happened and my performance that there was nothing anyone could have said.
“It was all gone so I just tried not to think about it, it was just so painful to think about everything I had invested in coming to an end like that.
“I went down a bit of a rabbit hole and tried to forget about Melanie Nocher the swimmer, I really tried to distance myself from that identity.”
Melanie lives in Loughborough, Leicestershire, with husband Ben and their young daughters Freya and Jessica.
“I threw myself into my married identity as Melanie Lissaman, the mother who people didn’t really know as much.
“That was quite an easy distinction to make and because I live in England people don’t really know me over here.
“It was very safe and very easy not to have to talk about the sport and what happened. I tried to hide from my previous life.
“I have an Olympic tattoo on the back of my neck and the first thing people say when they see it is, ‘Did you get a medal?’ and that’s hard, I just have to laugh it off.
“I think a lot of people have no idea how hard it is to get to the Olympics let alone get a medal. It’s like a stab in the heart when you get asked that.”
Melanie had to crawl out of the pool she was so weak following her efforts but felt she had to “prove” she was unwell, adding to her nightmare.
She said: “I didn’t speak to the media after the race and it was said I was ignoring them but nobody ever asked why.
“I crawled through the media zone on my hands and knees, it’s not like I sauntered past giving them the finger, I was in bits. That was hard because I’ve always been very open with the media. Sports people and the media need each other.
“I understood they wanted to talk to me about my performance but I just couldn’t even think about talking to anybody.
“I’ve said it before but I just wish I had done something that was visible, it’s a bit like mental health, because you can’t see it there will always be sceptics who don’t believe you.
“I felt almost like I had to prove that I was unwell, I almost wish I’d taken a video of myself being sick, which is really sad because I shouldn’t have felt like that.
“I think that was probably part of the reason I didn’t want to talk about it as well. I am glad that I at least tried because I wouldn’t have been able to forgive myself if I hadn’t at least got in the pool and tried.
“Unfortunately just being able to try, rather than really compete, in the most important day of your life is just devastating.
“You kinda want to just curl up into a ball, almost childlike, and hide from the world because you don’t want to face it.”
Melanie spent years unable to confront the reality of what had happened at the London Aquatics Centre and is only recently coming to terms with the incident.
After taking part in RTÉ’s Hell Week bootcamp show earlier this year and making it to the final round in October, Melanie said she finally started to come to terms with what happened in 2012.
She added: “Whenever I tried to talk about it more recently, as soon as I started discussing it, I could feel myself welling up but over time, and since taking part in Hell Week, I’ve found myself more able to do it.
“I’ve gotten a really positive reaction and I was surprised, I’ve not forgiven myself and I’ll never get over it, but I have come to terms with it and accepted it whereas before I didn’t even want to think about it.
“I used to hide all my Olympic memorabilia, I didn’t want it around and I didn’t want to see it, but now I have my Olympic torch in the kitchen. I’m not trying to hide that stuff anymore.
“I’ll never be proud of it but I’m proud to be a double Olympian. It’s almost a decade ago and I’m only now coming to terms with it but if I can offer hope to anyone else in a similar situation by speaking out, then it’s worth speaking about what I went through.”