In Australia, I think we need to do a much better job of educating people about gambling, because we live in a culture where it’s widely accepted as a social pastime.
We’ve got big horse races, casinos everywhere, pokies in every pub and sports betting apps on our phones that are widely advertised. And still, gambling remains a hidden addiction.
For most people, it’s something that’s not to be talked about openly, which is why we need to have honest conversations so as a nation we can begin to understand that gambling doesn’t just affect the person placing the bet. That’s simply the action that begins a ripple effect.
A loss can make you moody, which can affect your relationships. It can take you out of the moment, so you’re not really present when you’re supposed to be spending time with your friends, having a good time.
It can drive a wedge between a person, their friends and families and it’s hard to really know the extent of that damage until you’ve experienced it or spoken with someone who has.
It’s about people understanding there can be a fun social side to having a bet, as long as you know how to keep it in check. I think our schools need to be doing more to equip young people with the right information early.
What a friendship is worth
As I mentioned earlier, I certainly have that same personality trait that runs in my family.
The only difference is that I’m addicted to the endorphins and highs of performing, competing and entertaining at the highest level. For me, that’s a much more positive outlet than gambling.
I basically grew up in a gym, chasing my Olympic dream. As I grew older, I chased that winning feeling and the thought of winning prize money began to take more of a hold on me, as motivation for doing well in competition.
That can lead some athletes down bad paths. Fortunately, I had an angel on my shoulder keeping me grounded; I had my mum.
Even in sport though, through my involvement with Ninja Warrior, gambling has still had a significant impact on my life. I lost some friendships after sports betting companies opened up markets for betting on the TV show.
As the show was airing, I had friends harassing me for information on who had done well. It was another reminder of how desperate gambling can make people.
Instead of reaching out to see how I was going and to catch up, it was about them getting information from me so they could win some easy money. They didn’t respect the fact that I was under a non-disclosure agreement and stood to lose a great deal if I broke that contract.
More than that, it made me feel a bit sad that to them, that’s all our friendship was worth. There are so many things we could have had a laugh about but sure enough, after refusing to disclose the information, I never heard from them again.
What sport has taught me
In sport, when you work hard and achieve a goal – no matter how small – you receive a really powerful high. The best part about it is that no one can ever take that feeling away from you.
Reaching the Olympics took 11 years of hard work and mental training. Becoming the first and only female to make the grand final of Ninja Warrior has been another huge achievement. They are two things that I have forever now.
Knowing this has inspired me to help others and educate them about what’s possible when you work on your resilience and chase goals that will help you become the best possible version of yourself.
To look back at everything I’ve overcome is so satisfying.
I lost my father to cancer when I was 23 and fell into a depression. I broke my back later that year, and that was another hole I had to climb out of.
At times like those, when you’re in your head, it’s easy to trick yourself into thinking that things will never get better. Life’s an unpredictable journey and many of us go through dark periods in our lives. Finding positive outlets like sport can be helpful.
For some people, it’s easy to go looking for the quick fix. Distractions like gambling, drinking or drugs, that can take your mind off those feelings for even a little while. That can take your mind off the anxiety or the unsettled feeling in your stomach.
That’s why I think it’s important that we learn to guard our mental wellbeing. We need to practice good habits and hold ourselves accountable because we often tell ourselves things that stop us making progress.
And the other thing is that we need to seek out education and help where it’s available, so we have an understanding that although we might be on a difficult road, there are so many sources of help and support out there.
If you or someone you know is affected by gambling, call Gambler’s Help on 1800 858 858 or visit gamblershelp.com.au.