David Weir has revealed the extent of the crippling depression which led to him separating from the mother of his three young children and being stopped on a motorway in Cumbria by police after his family feared for his safety.
Weir is one of Great Britain’s most successful Paralympic athletes, having won six gold medals – including four at his home Games in London – and seven London Marathon titles, the most recent of which came in April.
Yet in a brutally honest interview with Telegraph Sport, Weir has admitted that there were days leading up to the event when he genuinely did not know if he would “make it to the start line”, such was the extent of the mental anguish which has gripped him since his stunning success at London 2012.
Failure to win a single medal at the Rio Paralympics last summer after competing in four events pushed him still further into a deep depression, and Weir has disclosed that he sought counselling at the start of the year.
“I remember waking up after New Year and realising I couldn’t live in my house any more,” he said. “On New Year’s Eve we all went out to the local social club. Even then I wasn’t happy. I just didn’t feel I was there. I felt like I was someone looking down from above and trying to be a happy person, but I wasn’t.”
After eight years with his partner, Emily, and three young children, Mason, Tillia, and Lenny, who was born while Weir was in Rio, he moved out of the family home and into his mother’s house nearby. But it was just the beginning of his troubles. He remained deeply depressed and, a few weeks later, confused and irrational, he decided to drive to visit his father, who lives in Northern Ireland.
“I wrote a letter to the kids saying I was going away, and that I was sorry,” explained Weir, who also has a teenage daughter, Ronie, from a previous relationship. “I’d picked up some clothes and said to my mum I was going training. But I didn’t go to training, I just drove to Scotland. I was going to get the ferry, and see my old man. I’d also turned my phone off.”
Knowing Weir was in a dark place, his family raised the alarm. “I’d been driving for five hours and I got stopped on the M6 by police at 11 o’clock at night,” Weir said. “Obviously someone reported me and said I was mentally unstable. When the police stopped me they said: ‘You’re not going to do anything stupid, are you?’ I said: ‘No, I’m going to see my dad. I’m not that kind of person’.
“They said that they had been trying to find me for hours and could I ring some people. I turned my phone back on and obviously I had messages.”
He realised it was Ronie’s birthday the next day, so turned around and drove all the way back in one night. By the time, he arrived home, he had been driving 14 hours.
“I was confused,” he said. “I got the dates wrong in my head. Then I thought, how can I be so selfish?”
The reality, of course, was that Weir was unwell. “I really wasn’t myself. I couldn’t talk properly. I was stuttering. My speech was slow. I was twitchy. I was in training for the London Marathon, but there were times when I would forget to eat for a few days.”