Canada’s chefs de mission espouse the importance of mental health

Canadian Paralympic Committee

January 27, 2021

Dixon and Dueck chat candidly in advance of Bell Let’s Talk Day

An image of Stephanie Dixon and Josh Dueck with a black background

When Stephanie Dixon has a moment of feeling anxious or unsure during the current global pandemic, she tries to reflect on the fact that she is not alone. 

“I remind myself that no one knows what they’re doing,” said Dixon, Canada’s chef de mission for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. “It sounds silly, but it definitely makes me feel better. When I’m feeling lost or that I’m not doing a good job adapting – really, nobody feels like they know what they’re doing right now. It’s a rollercoaster, some days are easier than others, but it’s normal to feel overwhelmed or uncertain or isolated.” 

While mental health is always an important topic, this year it seems even more critical than ever as we enter the second year of the COVID-19 crisis. 

With Bell Let’s Talk Day bringing the conversation to the forefront this month, Dixon and Josh Dueck, Canada’s chef de mission for the Beijing 2022 Paralympic Winter Games, shared honest reflections about their own mental health over the past year and the impact of mental health on athletes. 

Both have been doing their best to support their well-being. For Dixon, that involves staying virtually connected to family and friends, and spending time outside. She also stressed the value of counselling, as she herself prepped for an upcoming appointment, and that there are many free resources out there. 

Dueck, who says he has definitely had his struggles through the past year, is enjoying a routine of waking up with the sun. He has recently been impacted by author Jocko Willink who touts “freedom through discipline”. 

“One of the best ways I can find freedom from some of my mental health challenges, anxiety, and depression that already play a factor in my life but are compounded by the pandemic, is discipline through routine,” he said. “That routine is waking up early in the morning seven days a week, 5 a.m., and doing a personal practice. For me, that’s yoga and meditation. My uncle was big proponent of reading and playing guitar and that was his way. I think the most important thing is just finding time for yourself, finding time of solitude.”

In their roles as chefs de mission, Dixon and Dueck recognize the toll the pandemic has been taking on many athletes, who may not be able to train as they would like to or know when their next competition will take place. 

Dixon’s message is a simple one, that all people could benefit from remembering.  

“Let’s not underestimate how important our metal health is,” said Dixon. “It’s invisible so it’s not as obvious to us as a cold or a physical symptom. But it is just as important and if we ignore our mental health, it actually can come out in physical symptoms. It’s okay to not be okay, but there are a lot of tools out there to help us get back on track when we don’t feel like we are okay.”

Dueck echoes similar sentiments and suggests reflecting on what one can focus on right now. 

“Focus on what you can control, prioritize the process ahead of outcome, and if it’s not coming together or making sense to you, then reach out,” he said. “It shows great strength of character and courage if you’re willing to reach out and seek support.”

The two accomplished Paralympians note how essential mental health is to an athlete’s performance – not just to reaching their full potential but to enjoying the experience. 

“Mental health contributes to performance, but performance without mental health isn’t worth it,” said Dixon, who says she has experience doing both – competing while her mental health was in check and when it was not. She may sometimes have been able to perform well in both cases, but says she learned so much more from her performance and grew as a person when she was in a good place mentally.  

“You don’t have to drive yourself into the ground in order to get a great performance,” she said. “And sometimes we forget that. When we do take care of ourselves mentally and physically, we will perform better.” 

Ultimately, both Dixon and Dueck are huge proponents of making mental health a priority, and seeking help when it is needed. 

“We can’t allow this subject to be taboo any longer,” said Dueck. “It’s okay to talk about, it’s okay to be vulnerable, and to share your personal experiences and some of the challenges you may be facing.”

Bell Let’s Talk Day, which raises money in support of mental health resources, is on January 28. 

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