World Mental Health Day: Stephanie Labbe’s journey through panic attacks to Olympic gold

Stephanie Labbe is smiling.

Swedish striker Kosovare Asllani has simply positioned the ball on the spot to take the primary kick of a penalty shootout to determine the gold medal match of the ladies’s 2020 Olympic soccer remaining.

Amidst the sweltering Tokyo warmth, two hours of play couldn’t separate Sweden and Canada — now, a lifetime of coaching and desires hinges on 10 spot-kicks.

It is about as pressurized because it will get for a footballer and but, 12 yards away, Canadian goalkeeper Labbe is smiling.

Two days later, Olympic gold medalist and penalty shootout hero Labbe is not smiling.

She lies in a darkish room. She has spent a lot of the earlier 48 hours there.

Overstimulated and feeling “utterly dissociated” from her victory, she can’t course of any of the hundreds of congratulatory messages and media enquiries blowing up her telephone within the wake of Canada’s historic triumph — the nation’s first ever Olympic gold within the girls’s soccer occasion.

To know her numbness following the achievement of a lifelong dream, Labbe takes us again to the primary sport of the match towards hosts Japan.


Through the first-half, Labbe sustained a painful rib harm. Prophetically, she proceeded to avoid wasting a penalty earlier than — unable to proceed — she was substituted.

Unbeknownst to Labbe, the harm would dredge after which fire up a whirlpool of anxieties and psychological baggage that had constructed up throughout the previous 18 months — the insecurity of her place on the nationwide staff, the suspending of the Olympics, a brand new nationwide staff coach, and the shortcoming to coach as a staff for a protracted interval.

“I do not assume I spotted on the time how a lot I used to be holding onto, how a lot the challenges of the previous 12 months and a half had affected me and have been nonetheless underlying there in my system — attending to the Olympics wasn’t only a magical treatment for all of this.” Labbe instructed CNN.

“That takes a toll over time and generally we do not at all times see or really feel what that toll is till one thing is available in and sort of shakes it up a bit.

“That is what that harm did … it was just like the water was nearly attending to the brim. I felt good and assured however simply that one further factor is what spilt it over.”

Regardless of the continued ache of her harm and numerous journeys to the hospital, Labbe and her staff agreed she was bodily match to proceed. She missed the next match towards Chile however returned to the line-up for the ultimate group fixture towards Nice Britain.

Nevertheless, unseen wounds have been making it a conflict on two fronts.

“My adrenaline was so heightened, and my neuromuscular system was so finely tuned that I struggled to come back down between video games, which resulted in excessive ranges of tension and a number of panic assaults,” mentioned Labbe.

“I knew it had nothing to do with efficiency nervousness, I used to be totally assured and nerves weren’t a difficulty on matchday. It was the second that whistle blew, that second the place I needed to come down and loosen up a bit earlier than the subsequent sport.”

Labbe was so overstimulated that she didn’t practice between the quarterfinal and the finals — a truth made all of the extra astonishing by the back-to-back clear sheets she saved towards Brazil and match favorites america en path to the ultimate.

For Labbe the pitch is her “pleased zone”, a “launch.”

Years of meticulous coaching, work with a sports activities psychologist, meditation and different mindfulness workout routines have helped to forge an athlete with laser deal with matchday — current and supremely assured.


In order penalties within the gold medal match loomed, Labbe regarded like essentially the most relaxed goalkeeper within the historical past of penalty shoot-outs.

“For me, I actually was having fun with the second,” Labbe mentioned.

“I bear in mind as quickly because the whistle went, I knew that the gamers on my staff have been going to really feel slightly little bit of that stress and stress, realizing that they have been going to be stepping as much as take pictures.

“In order an older, extra skilled participant on the staff, as a frontrunner on the staff, I needed to do no matter I may to present them confidence and tranquility to attempt to take that stress off of them.

“I understand how a lot physique language can have an have an effect on on folks so I bear in mind strolling into that huddle and I used to be like, ‘Steph, smile, look relaxed, look tremendous assured in order that if anybody is a bit nervous they usually lookup they usually see you, they’re gonna see you being assured and also you exhibiting this relaxed, composed model of your self.'”

A part of the smiling demeanor, Labbe admits, was additionally to undertaking stress onto the Swedish takers. And but, past a purposeful function to each ease and amplify nervousness, her grin additionally got here from a real place of pleasure.

“I bear in mind telling myself, ‘Steph you are in a shootout to win a gold medal, at worst case you’ve an Olympic silver medal, you have already achieved a lot and now’s the time simply to take pleasure in this,’ Labbe mentioned.

“You are not going to get this second again, you are not going to get this chance once more. It is likely to be the identical nevertheless it would possibly look a bit completely different, really feel slightly bit completely different, so simply take pleasure in it.’

“I bear in mind taking that point to be utterly current, as a result of what a tremendous second that was for me personally, for our staff. We had made historical past already simply going into that shootout so there was this sense of calmness as a result of I used to be simply having fun with it and pleased to be there.”

The smiling labored. Labbe saved two penalties, Sweden failing to hit the goal with two extra, as Canada triumphed 3-2 within the shootout to spark euphoric scenes on the pitch of the Worldwide Stadium Yokohama.

Labbe’s Wikipedia biography was swiftly edited — altering her place from goalkeeper to Nationwide Minister of Defence — main Canada’s precise Defence Minister, Harjit Sajjan, to recognize Labbe’s heroics.

“From one MND to a different, thanks for defending the flag and for serving to deliver house this lengthy awaited gold to Canada!” Sajjan tweeted.


But, just like the hundreds of comparable messages of congratulations, it will be a short time earlier than they really sunk in for Labbe.

“Within the first 48 hours after we have been nonetheless in Tokyo, that was a problem for me as a result of I nonetheless wasn’t in a position to come down,” Labbe defined.

“Psychological sickness is rather like another harm — you simply do not see it nevertheless it’s the identical within the sense that issues do not simply heal in a single day, or with the snap of a finger.

“Simply because the sport was over and we received does not imply that every one of this nervousness and inside turmoil that I used to be going by means of simply goes instantly.

“I used to be ready for that sort of launch and it did not come in order that’s why I used to be simply so overstimulated and I wanted to be in a darkish room to let my thoughts loosen up, to let my physique come down a bit from the excessive.

“It is undoubtedly a day-by-day factor and even now, I have a look at the medal and I am like, ‘is that this actually mine? Did we truly win a gold medal?’ I do not know if it totally sunk in and I do not know when it truly will totally sink in.”

Labbe’s therapeutic course of started upon her return to Canada. Days tenting away along with her associate and Canadian biking Olympian, Georgia Simmerling, allowed her to “decompress” and proceed what would finally change into the summer season of a lifetime.


As fall beckoned, Labbe was an Olympic gold medalist, a fiancé, and making ready for a transfer to a brand new nation — having signed with one of many world’s largest golf equipment, Paris Saint-Germain.

“I took just a few days with my associate to go away tenting, unplug for a bit and decompress,” Labbe mentioned.

“That was tremendous useful. I feel not having to speak about it loads, having the ability to simply undergo my self-healing course of after which after I lastly reconnected with my family and friends that is when it began to essentially hit.

“Since then, day-by-day, speaking to completely different folks, speaking about my expertise and simply seeing the influence that we have had on our nation is admittedly superb. I really feel so honored and proud to have been part of that and to have executed it with a few of the most unimaginable folks I’ve ever met.”

Simmerling, who in September retired from biking and began her personal sports activities advertising and marketing and company enterprise for feminine athletes, has lengthy been a central cog of Labbe’s assist system.

“I feel she is a superb opposition to me within the sense that Georgia is fairly black and white and sees issues in a method that is very completely different to me,” Labbe mentioned.

“I feel that helps me heal as a result of for me I undoubtedly get tunnel imaginative and prescient in sure senses after I’m going by means of arduous instances, I actually begin to slim in and it is actually robust to get out of that spiral — she offers opposition to that and challenges me in several methods.

“She’s gone by means of her personal challenges and I feel the extra open and weak I have been along with her the extra she’s been in a position to be that with me.”


Talking from the couple’s new condominium in Paris, Labbe displays on the journey she’s been on and the teachings she has learnt — her phrases made all of the extra poignant forward of World Psychological Well being Day on Sunday.

“It is human nature — we need to be chosen, we need to be picked and when there’s this factor that is not selecting you, that may have an effect on your self-confidence and your self-worth,” Labbe mentioned.

“So I feel the most important factor that I’ve learnt in my profession just isn’t permitting exterior elements to find out my self-worth — exterior elements being what coaches consider me, the quantity of enjoying time I get — not permitting these issues that truly are out of my management have an effect on how I really feel about myself.

“I’ve executed loads of work on that in order that regardless of the place I’m in a staff, no matter function I am enjoying, it would not have an effect on how I take into consideration myself.”

While she believes the entry to, and high quality of, psychological well being sources for athletes has improved over the past decade, Labbe nonetheless feels extra must be executed.

“I feel there is a fable that athletes want psychological well being sources immediately associated to efficiency,” she mentioned.

“The stigma round us solely being athletes wants to vary. We’re simply people and the job that we do exactly occurs to be broadcast and within the public information.

“We nonetheless undergo actual life challenges — having the ability to flip it on and off to carry out on the sphere, no matter sport you do, is usually a problem. Simply because competitors is over does not imply these challenges go away.

“On the finish of the day, all of us need the identical factor and I feel it is essential to share our tales and share our journeys so we may help different folks not really feel so alone, really feel extra snug to be weak, and to come back out and discuss their experiences.”

On Wednesday, Labbe was in Iceland as PSG kicked off it is UEFA Champions League marketing campaign with a 2-0 win over Breidablik. Within the league, PSG has begun the season with a flawless file — performed 4, received 4, conceded none.

Labbe has already set her sights on including the French cup to what could be a historic treble — anybody who watched her in Tokyo wouldn’t wager towards her doing so.

And he or she’ll doubtless do it with a smile.

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