From the outside looking in, it would seem Dan Conn
is the Aussie bloke who has it all. Good looks, professional sporting career
and succesful business ventures. But for years away from the public eye, Dan’s been battling inner demons that have
threatened to unravel his whole life on more than one occasion. I went through those suicidal episodes,
I tried to overdose and I just veered into a big Besser block. I told everyone it was an accident.
That I didn’t mean to do it, I saw something and I swerved, and so-so.
It took me a while to come out and actually say, “No, that was actually me trying to finish it off,” Despite growing up in a very remote town in rural NSW, Dan was always destined to play rugby league at the highest level. He debuted in the NRL at 18
and by 25 he was playing in his first grand final. The grand final experience was just immense and it didn’t kick in until the planes flew over and I was thinking… I was on a farm driving tractors when I was 10
and here I am about to play in a grand final so it was pretty crazy. Tell me about your first experience in your eyes with mental health. I guess when I was 18 that was the first sign
I realized just that numb feeling was consistent, and nothing made me happy, nothing made me sad. But it was just that plateau and I thought that something’s not right. We were winning games and everyone was high fiving.
Go home, everyone wants to go out and celebrate, and I’d stay home and I just want to sit by myself.
And I was like, “Okay… ” Former Olympic rower and founder of Crossing the Line, Gearoid Towey is adamant that the rise of social media and exorbitant amounts of
sponsorship dollars in professional sport these days has directly contributed to the alarming rate of
elite athletes suffering mental illness. A recent study came out late last year, 2018. And this is Australian athletes alone,
I reckon, 46% of current competing athletes experience depression or have experienced depression at some point. That’s athletes that are competing? Yeah. So you can imagine what…
Like a lot of athletes won’t even experienced their first – encounter with depression after so if you have …
– After. that statistic as almost half who are experiencing depression during,
like the after bit is going to be carnage. They go through sport, fine, but then sports stops but those problems are still there.
They’ve been masked but they haven’t been – Yeah they’re not taken away, they’re there forever.
– understood. So they reared their head in retirement as well. Buddy, talk to me about…
You mentioned those dark days, that tough time? Your mindset around trying to take your own life? When I was playing for the Titans, I remember I checked myself out of hospital in Brisbane. I shouldn’t, I should have had to stay the night. I’d had an operation on my foot
and I knew I wasn’t going to get back in the team. I was driving on the highway from Brisbane back to the Gold Coast, and I was thinking, “Well, I’m not going to make the team,
probably going to get cut.” And I just veered into a big besser block. Besser block pretty much went straight through the middle.
I was banged up but I wasn’t in any terrible way. I told everyone it was an accident.
That I didn’t mean to do it, I saw something and I swerved, and so-so. It took me a while to come out and actually say,
“No, that was actually me trying to finish it off,” Despite the failed suicide attempt,
Dan continues to play at the top level and in 2011, while playing for the Roosters and coming off his best season, 25-year-old Dan sustains a broken neck in a tackle and is forced to retire. The ensuing 18 months that followed can only be described
as the darkest days of Dan’s life. When I got told, “That’s footy.”
I thought well, that’s all I knew, that’s the only thing I knew. I don’t know business, oh well.
At School, I was sent to school to play footy, not to learn anything else. After I’d finished footy,
and the neck was just getting to me to a point where I had access to medication for my neck. Yeah, so I had a pretty fair crack at overdosing. I had to get my stomach pumped and revived, which was pretty scary.
That was the second time. And third time, was probably the scariest one.
Yeah, that was in Maroubra on the edge of a cliff. Late one night, had a few too many drinks and again,
it was probably about a year after my neck. The boys are doing really well, you’re sort of coming out of the,
oh you were a footy player, now what do you do type thing. I think there’s that loss of identity was just starting to really, really get to me. That one was probably the closest. I guess the feeling was that, everyone needs something to attach themselves to in terms of their purpose in life. So, you know, when you say, “I’m a cricketer, I’m a rower,”
whether you’re working in construction or whatever it is, you’re that person. When that’s gone, then it’s very, very difficult because then you’re kind of going, “Well, I don’t know what I am. I don’t know where I’m going.”
And, those questions are very, they’re simple, they’re actually really deep questions
when you don’t have the answer. You mentioned that lack of, or that loss of identity from finishing footy before starting business, that little period there.
What did that feel like? I tried to forget about footy and the neck
and all this sort of stuff, and got to see a bit of the world. But when I came back it was a … that’s when it sort of clicked, and it was like okay,
now is the time to progress into something else. And I was talking to a really good psychologist at the time. I confessed to him, you know.
He was the first person I confessed to about what I tried to do. He said, “Mate, you’re still here because you got a reason you’re still here.
You’ve got purpose.” And I was like, “Everyone’s got a purpose.”
He goes, “No, mate. Seriously, you got a purpose. You got to do something with it.” And I was like, “What do you mean?”
He goes, “Well, you’ve been through all this stuff with footy. You’ve broken your neck, you’ve nearly died in hospital, you’ve tried to commit suicide, you’ve come out at the other end
and you’re starting to learn now what depression is and mental health. You’re just starting your journey as to find out what your purpose is.” And I was just sitting there just going like, wow, this guy’s like nailing it. And after speaking to that guy was about finding a purpose, and that came within the hands of F45 and my purpose there was to
travel everywhere around the world and teach people about how to exercise properly and what that does for you and F45 speaks for itself, it went quite well
but again, it wasn’t something I could call my own. And then I was lucky enough to be asked to become partner of Hustle Boxing. These days Dan’s most important support network is his girlfriend Ellice, who is not only his partner but a wellness professional
specialising in nutrition, training and mindset. I think my influence on Dan — we’ve been friends for a long time
and I think that’s really important in a relationship. I think being able to understand each other and respect each other. I think a strong emotional well-being is important for anybody no matter who it is. No matter what they’re doing, where they are at in life. When I hear the help Dan manage his mental health I think it’s more about being in a partnership with him that he feels he’s – he can trust me with things. There’s no judgement there. I don’t necessarily think I help Dan, I’m just there with him.
I’m not there to do anything but sort of experience life with him
and I think that’s really important that he knows I’m not there to judge him or, and I think having that friendship there, really does come at a crucial point
because you need each other to bounce off and really get stronger together. Do you feel it is a number of things that gives you that strength these days? I think there is a number of things and it’s not medication for me at the moment. I mean I struggled to get out of bed this morning, and I was just slow and I didn’t… I thought, “Maybe I won’t train today. Maybe I’ll just take it easy.” And then you kind of got a… It’s kind of like a mental battle.
You got to talk yourself out of it and talk yourself back into it, and then you kind of think, “Okay where am I right now?
What am I doing? How good is this?”
And again, the affirmation stuff you like and the grattitude of thinking,
“I’m doing this for these people. I’ve got this great team behind me. You’ve got a great girlfriend. I’ve got a cool little puppy. Everything’s pretty cool.”
Life’s good man. What would your advice be to that young boy or that young girl
that he’s sitting right in the heat of the battle now? You’ve got to go back to your lifestyle.
You know, what are you doing that’s making you happy and what are the things that… I write. I write. So if something’s making me feel really bad, I write that down. I still give that to 18, 17, 16 year olds is to start a little journal. So write down three things you’re grateful for
and three things that you want to happen in your life for yourself. Not for anybody else, for yourself. Mate, can’t thank you enough, Dan.
Your experience and your honesty is unbelievable. – I appreciate it, thanks.
– I appreciate it, thanks brother.