Cyrille Tchatchet has survived one challenging experience after another. He’s battled depression, homelessness, and even the pressures of performing at the Olympics. Now he’s moving onto his next role, working as a mental health nurse in the United Kingdom, so he can help other people remain resilient in the face of tragedy and hardship.
From Refugee Status to Olympic Athlete
Tchatchet never thought he’d be performing at the Tokyo Olympics. He tweeted “I thought it was a dream!” after helping to carry the Olympic flag that kicked off the festivities.
He was one of 29 members of the official Refugee Olympic Team. In 2014, he traveled from his home country of Cameroon to participate in the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. Afterwards, he decided to stay in the U.K., feeling that it wasn’t safe for him to return home. Cameroon has seen rising rates of violence, corruption, and domestic terrorism over the last few decades.
With little connection to the local area, he spent about two months living on the streets of Brighton, where the weather was often rainy and cold.
“I was 19 years old in a new city, being homeless, not having my mum or my dad there to look after me so I felt really, really low and depressed in Brighton,” he said. “I actually contemplated suicide.”
He soon called a local hotline for the local Samaritans and explained his situation, which kicked off the asylum process. With a place to stay in the city, he found himself anxiously awaiting the results of his refugee application, while dealing with ongoing depression.
That’s why he started using weightlifting as a coping method. After obtaining his refugee status, he started performing at regional competitions – even eventually breaking records, winning titles at the British, English and British Universities & Colleges weightlifting competitions in 2017, 2018 and 2019.
Going for Gold
Tchatchet ended up scoring tenth place in the men’s 96kg weightlifting competition in Tokyo.
In a recent interview with Sky Sports, he said, “In weightlifting, you meet people and it becomes a social thing. It’s quite an addictive sport. It’s fun, it’s easy to measure your progress and achievements. Every day you go to the gym, you learn something, be it technique, be it a two kilograms improvement. There’s always room for improvement and improving your mental state and sense of achieving.”
As one of the few refugee athletes to compete in the games, Tchatchet continues to speak up for homeless individuals all over the world.
“My message to other refugees is to believe, to be hopeful,” he said. “Today might be difficult, but the future might be brighter.”
Getting Back to Work
He credits the mental health counselors in the U.K. for helping him find a way out of his grief, so much so that he eventually decided to pursue a Mental Health Nursing degree from Middlesex University as a way of supporting everyone who cared for him when he needed it the most.
He says he would regularly spend four or five hours training at the gym in between his college studies.
His professor and mentor, Lawrence Dadzie, says he has been a focused and determined student as well as a good listener, a vital skill for mental health nurses.
“I am a nurse by day and a weightlifter in the evening. I studied nursing to give back to the community that supported me. Hope will not only give you the courage to fight, but also promote your mental wellbeing,” Tchatchet tweeted in January.
Dadzie says Tchatchet’s background as a refugee has helped him prepare for his new role as a counselor. “He’s able to understand people who suffer from this condition, he’s able to understand them better. And he also feels that he can also give something back.”
His mentor added that the school would put up posters of him in the lead up to the Tokyo Olympic games, but Tchatchet “didn’t talk about it much,” often focusing on his studies instead.
Now that the Olympics are over, he’s getting back to his day job as a mental health nurse.
We’re so proud of Tchatchet for everything that he’s achieved over the last few years. Anyone who comes under his care is sure to be in good hands.