An interview with Gary Neiwand, December 28, 2007
Gary Neiwand had it all going for him: a four time Olympian, winner of two Olympic silver medals, three world championships and three commonwealth golds. However, looks are sometimes deceiving. Shortly after the 2000 Olympics, one he considers a failure, his life began a downward spiral that would see him arrested and then spending nine months in jail. Neiwand has dealt with his problems and is currently in Tasmania with the Malaysian track team as a mentor and master tactician. Cyclingnews' Paul Verkuylen sat down with him as he gave his no holds barred account of how his life has changed since retiring from international competition in 2000.
Neiwand was a hero in the eyes of the Australian public. The Australian's achievements at the Olympic and Commonwealth Games were things some of us could only dream of. However, for the man himself a silver medal at the Sydney Olympics was a failure and sent him over the edge and into depression.
"In 2000 Olympics I didn't achieve what I set out to achieve. It was a fair kick in the guts and I couldn't live with myself. My life kind of downward spiralled since then; I can't sit here and say that depression kicked in at any given time. I look back now and I might of have had depression in 1996," he recalled.
"Things started taken their toll on me after the Olympics, I didn't ride the bike anymore, I hit the bottle and all of that sort of thing. I got down to the lowest ebb that you can get to; I was my own worst enemy."
Neiwand wasn't aware of it at the time, but things were actually a lot worse that what he thought. Constantly trying to convince himself and others that things were all okay.
"When depression and everything really set in, I found that I was living two, three sometimes four different lives. One kept on taking over from the other one. I was covering up all the time. I didn't really know who I was and where I was going. When I was around family and friends I was trying to get across that I was 'Gary the normal guy.' Afterwards, I would go away thinking 'I got through that alright' then I would drive up around the corner and cry for two hours."
The once champion cyclist no longer knew who he really was, as a result he began turning to other means to hide from himself. "I was masking a lot of things with social drugs and alcohol," he said.
Neiwand is now much happier with his life - working alongside former coach, John Beasley, of the Malaysian national track team he is focusing his energy on getting the best out of the talented young group of riders. However, there was a time when all he could think about was ending it all, something that he can now speak openly about.
"I was working night shift finishing at midnight or one AM at night getting into a car and driving for two or three hours. Hoping and praying that I would fall asleep at the wheel or run into a truck or run into a car, and do all these stupid things.
"I wasn't at the best and I wasn't thinking properly, and I wasn't on medication; the normal 'Aussie male' wouldn't put his hand up for help, and I wouldn't talk about it."
Unfortunately, things would get a lot worse before they got better. He was arrested for stalking a former girlfriend and sentenced to 18 months in jail, of which he served nine. Surprisingly, Neiwand actually considers this the turning point of his life.
"Thinking back now, you have your great times and all that, but probably the best day of my life was the day that I got arrested. I had planned suicide; I wasn't far away from it and was maybe within a week of suicide. I had planned things and did all that. If I hadn't been arrested I wouldn't be here today."
The next period of Neiwand's life was one of self-discovery. Once again, He needed to find the person with whom he was most comfortable. Treating the time spent behind bars much like one of the training camps that he frequented while under the wing of former National track coach, Charlie Walsh, he set about rebuilding his life.
"Nine months is only nine months, it's not a long time. We used to go away for nine months at a time on a training trip, and I treated it like that.
"It was hard on my family and friends, but I treated it as a time to get myself together, get on medication and come out better."
Neiwand was diagnosed with high depression and prescribed mediation to help combat this. He believes that his time spent inside was not all bad and that it helped him understand what was going on. "I am no saint, I will never have a halo around my head, but I think that I have come out a better person because now I know and understand the troubles and issues that I was dealing with. I am now on medication. I take a tablet now everyday and that helps deal with everything."
His time in jail was not without its problems either; at one point, he was the target of another inmates rage. Neiwand was luckily never confronted by the inmate as personnel were alerted to the possible trouble and the inmate was subsequently moved to another jail.
"It's a different world in there. You live by the rules in there just like you live by the rules out here. You do what you have to, to survive. You do things that you normally won't do. I wouldn't go belting anyone to use a telephone out here."
Since being paroled, Neiwand's relationship with his former wife have improved, she was instrumental in his recovery and his positive outlook while serving his time. Now the two have become even better friends.
"Cathy came over and had Christmas lunch with me and my family the other day. We are probably the best friends that we have ever been, even when were married. She was great to my kids when I was inside and explained to them that 'Dad is going through some problems and issues, he's on medication now and everything will be a lot better.
"She played a big part in me coming out [with a] more positive [attitude] ..."
As is often the case, friends become one of the most important things in a time of need; for Neiwand, former coach and mate Beasley was there for him and to offer the support he needed. Now the two are working alongside one another and have a great relationship, which is definitely apparent as the two share a joke while being interviewed.
"John was there for me, without John I never would have got to the Olympics," he said.
"I now work for John in his bike shop and I am always there if he needs any help with his Malaysian boys. I owe John and his wife Vicky so much it's not funny. They have stuck by me. Even when I've been the biggest asshole they were always there; I owe them a lot."
Neiwand is also happy to back as part of the rolling circus that is track racing as well. Coming out to Tasmania is one of the many small delights that he obviously treasures.
"I thank John that that I am back to the racing again. For me to come down to be a part of the Malaysian squad is great. I know John is doing it to help me as well. Giving me the opportunity to show people that I have changed and that the things that happened have happened and they're in the past.
"The good thing with the cycling fraternity is they are a forgiving bunch, once a cyclist, always a cyclist. Just to come back down here and be a part of it again has been good. I am just there to help and assist anyone."
The only thing left for Neiwand now is to return to doing the thing that he has done so well in the past -- riding his bike. He said is in no hurry to do so, but by listening to him speak one senses that he may not be far away from a return.
"I will get back on a bike one day, not to compete but to lose a bit of weight and enjoy myself. ... I have started seeing a girl and she rides a bike, so even if it's only a few social rides with her then that's always a start."