Ballarat Olympian Rachel Tallent helps teenagers to sharpen their mental fitness

SUPPORT: Ballarat Olympian Rachel Tallent is ready to help share her mental fitness training with high school students in a move to improve mental health across the nation. Picture: Luka Kauzlaric

SUPPORT: Ballarat Olympian Rachel Tallent is ready to help share her mental fitness training with high school students in a move to improve mental health across the nation. Picture: Luka Kauzlaric

GRATITUDE is one skill Olympic race walker Rachel Tallent is practising more lately.

This week was originally scheduled to be the opening week of the Tokyo Olympic Games. Tuesday marked two years until the Birmingham Commonwealth Games.

Instead Tallent, like most international athletes, is in a state of flux.

The 27-year-old Ballarat export will step up among 27 elite athletes to help young people manage their mental health and sharpen their mental fitness in a new partnership between Australian Institute of Sport and Black Dog Institute. Coincidentally, some of the program preparation has proven a handy check-in for Tallent - like making time every day to write down three things she was grateful about.

Mental Fitness Program was great timing for Tallent. She had put studying on hold for her masters in psychology to step up her push to reach Tokyo and the program tapped into her focus on and off the training track.

"The reason it really stuck out for me was because it's to do with youth mental health and increasing awareness of mental health and mental fitness for younger generations," Tallent said.

"As an athlete this is a chance to put back into the community and it's something I really enjoy...It's exciting to get out there and introduce this stuff to younger generations. It's become a big part of their lives these days - a lot of us didn't know about it growing up."

Tallent predominantly learnt such skills via her sport as an endurance athlete where mental fitness is as big a component as the physical in reaching the finish line. She said her brother Jared Tallent, an Olympic 50-kilometre walk gold medallist, was a master at mental fitness and this was why he was one of the best in the world.

Mindfulness techniques are a key tool Tallent uses in her training. Tallent also looks to build on her strengths and improve on her weaknesses and uses techniques to focus on positives, compared to negatives. All have been useful skills in coping amid the COVID-19 pandemic for Tallent.

"Like a lot of us, you can get bogged down in looking at a whole year's more training for the Olympics," Tallent said. "You put in so much time and effort for a big event and there's a whole 365 days on top of that.

"I know a lot of athletes who probably would have retired after the Olympics and didn't think they would have to train a whole more year. Mental fitness comes into it and plays a big role. I like to focus on the positives."

The AIS and Black Dog Institute's mental fitness program will draw on Olympic, Paralympic and Commonwealth Games athletes across a variety of disciplines to deliver well-being presentations to high schools across the nation.

Students will then complete a six-week mental health challenge, putting into play some of the technique they learn, before a return visit from their athlete.

More than 75 per cent of mental health issues develop before age 25, Black Dog research shows, with the institute recommending skills in tackling this be taught from an early age. About one in five Australians experience mental illness and about 60 per cent do not seek help.

Visitors to Black Dog Institute's website have doubled during the pandemic with people seeking skills to cope with rising stress and anxiety.

Psychology is not an area Tallent had imagined herself studying when in high school. She was introduced to the field as a pre-requisite at university and it seemed to fit.

Tallent has a challenging, uncertain path ahead in her bid to reach Tokyo but she knows there is plenty to be grateful about on the journey.

For more details, visit blackdoginstitute.org.au.

This story Ballarat Olympian helps teenagers to sharpen their mental fitness first appeared on The Courier.