In 2012, Clint Slomp was at rock bottom. His marriage was falling apart (with a second daughter on the way), his dreams of playing AFL were over and he was losing the 10 year battle with depression, contemplating suicide on a couple of occasions. His world was crumbling around him.
10 years prior, Clint had been diagnosed with depression. In 2001 he had been working full time, training WAFL 5 days a week and studying to be a personal trainer. He was wearing himself ragged. As a bulletproof 21 year old, his solution was to simply fight through it and work even harder. Not the ideal approach… as he now admits. Eventually, a bout of pneumonia led him to visit several doctors, searching for a diagnosis to this ongoing issue. Something that could be identified as ‘the problem’ that could be treated and fixed. The first 4 doctors didn’t have an answer for him. Number 5 did. Clint was diagnosed with depression and put on anti-depressant medication. The doctor explaining at the time that this was a ‘permanent solution’, he’d never be able to come off the drugs.
For 10 years Clint took prescription medication, in ever increasing dosages and with ever diminishing results. He’d seen counselors and psychologists who simply gave him more pills. Eventually he ended up on medication for bipolar in addition to the depression meds. 10 tablets a day was the new norm. While the dosages were increasing however, Clints mindset and mental health was deteriorating. That’s how he found himself in 2012, on the verge of a complete breakdown from which there was likely no coming back. In a desperate solution, his psychiatrist recommended electro shock therapy as a final measure, the last chance to bring Clint back from the void. He agreed to the treatment and called his now ex-wife to tell her and the kids what he was about to do. Thankfully, she talked him out of it. Who knows where that treatment would have led.
Clint decided he’d had enough and began to take treatment into his own hands. He told the psychiatrist point blank that he wasn’t going to continue taking the medication. It was clear that this wasn’t working as a solution; he was deteriorating instead of improving, despite the higher doses. Unsurprisingly, he was told that this was perhaps the worst decision he could possibly make. Clint went ahead anyway, slowly weaning himself off the medication over a 3 month period, with the help of his doctor. The transformation was dramatic.
It’s been 6 years now since Clint last took any prescribed medication and he’s feeling more motivated and better than ever. When I caught up with him he’d just come back from a run up in the Perth Hills, a day after a brutal 30km, 1500m elevation training sesh. He’s getting ready for the Ultra Trail Australia, often called Australia’s premiere ultra marathon: 100km and 4,400m of elevation through the scenic blue mountains. He committed to this one nearly 2 years ago and has been slowly working up to it, completing a couple of 50 mile ultras to get prepared (and finishing top 10 in each mind you!). He is a picture of health and his enthusiasm and energy is infectious. I’m already googling races to sign up to…
The process of getting off the medication wouldn’t have been easy of course, but regular training and some natural health supplements (antioxidants) certainly helped. Most importantly for Clint, was the community of exercise enthusiasts he surrounded himself with, firstly in the triathlon world and now in trail running. Clint told me that for him, although he’s a competitive person, enjoys pushing and challenging himself, exercise has always been a social pursuit.
He now leads a trail running group at Manning Park in Perth, a weekly Thursday night session that attracts up to 50 people of all running capabilities. What started out as an invitation to a few friends now gets hundreds of people involved in a supportive community that run for an hour each week and get engagement and connection that they perhaps don’t get anywhere else in life. I’ve listed details down the bottom of this post for anyone in Perth interested in getting involved.
The Perth Trail Series is an ever growing running community that hosts multiple races of various distances through the Perth Hills and beyond. It’s soon to kick off a new race called the Cobba Classic and they’ve asked Clint to be the face of the event. They’re paying recognition to Clint for all the tremendous work he’s been doing in talking about mental health issues, through his own story, as well as encouraging others to open up and discuss their own battles- often a challenging assignment for many men out there.
When I asked Clint about the best way to go about this, and how he’s been so effective, he explained that the best time to open up and have a deep, meaningful conversation, was out on the trails. So, that’s what he does. He gets a group of people together, or often just one on one and they go for a run. During the run, conversation begins to flow (not always- trail running is hard work after all!) and something imitating a therapy session takes place, perhaps the most effective form of therapy there is for otherwise closed off individuals. The runners often refer to it as their ‘trail therapy session’.
During our conversation, Clint referenced this article, describing a new form of therapy created by psychologist Chris Darmody. Dr Darmody calls it Narrative Walks, an alternative form of therapy for those who are a little disillusioned with the traditional model of sitting in an office and pouring out their issues. There is a growing body of evidence suggesting that this really does work and anecdotally, the proof doesn’t need to be quantified by data.
To me it makes a great deal of sense. I personally find hiking and trail running to be a somewhat meditative experience. It cuts away distractions and ensures you are more in-tune with your surroundings. Unlike road running, it also allows a brief departure from regular life, freedom from the everyday stresses of work, family and being a productive citizen. There is no pressure out in the bush, you’re free to enjoy your surroundings and think a little more broadly about life. Perhaps also, a little more inwardly. Experiencing this with other like minded people, you’re inclined to share your thoughts and feelings much more so than you would in a stale office setting with the pressure of time weighing you down. The element of physical strain and effort certainly helps, rather than hinders this introspection and release.
What Clint is doing is phenomenal work, perfectly capturing the essence of the Sport for Life model we’ve developed at Zuberant Life. There is so much to be gained through exercise, particularly in a nature-based setting. Even more so, within a community of individuals who collectively strive for both personal achievement, but also of improvement among every other member of the group. That’s quintessential human nature and something we tend to lack in the modern world. It’s no wonder the trail running communities around the world have continued to grow at a rapid rate, including the one Clint has fostered and developed. That can only be a positive thing and it’s with our greatest hope that Clints message will continue to spread, along with so many others in similar positions and with similar stories. The world can only be the better for it.
For anyone in Perth wanting to get involved, you join the Facebook group Trail Thursdays and Manning Park.
For those wanting to get a little more competitive, sign up to an event or 2 of the Perth Trail Series.