Boxing is about as tough and lonely a sport as you can find.
But for Garth Wood it was his battles outside of the ring that proved to be his toughest.
Wood is best know for his series of fairytale victories during the reality television show, ‘The Contender’, followed by his shock upset knockout victory over Anthony ‘The Man’ Mundine at Sydney’s Olympic Park months later.
But Garth’s story began well before he silenced Mundine in the fifth round of that historic clash back in 2010.
“I was going through depression for probably about 18 months before ‘The Contender’ come along,” says Wood.
“I played NRL before that and Souths didn’t renegotiate my contract and then I broke up with my missus, who was the love of my life, my first girlfriend. We had two kids together and I went off the rails, more or less,”
“Feeling down with depression, hanging with the wrong crew, on the piss, running amok.”
The former NRL player’s life had descended into chaos. Depressed and with no clear path out of the darkness, Garth hit the bottle, disappearing for days at a time on benders and it was those closest to home that suffered.
“The people that suffer are the ones that really love you, your close-knit family,” said Wood.
“I remember Mum would be awake every night hoping to hear the key in the door but I’d never come home. The kids would suffer too; they didn’t want to see their dad like that.”
Family is often the strength that many need to get through tough times but what happens when your own family breaks apart?
John Keats once wrote: “I am in that temper that if I were underwater I would scarcely kick to come to the top.”
Depression is often akin to drowning for many and for Wood it was no different but a phone call from a close family friend ended up being his saviour. Proof that we all need a little help when were down and out.
Johnny Lewis’ phone call would become the catalyst for a much needed life change.
Boxing would become the light in a world of darkness for Wood.
“Johnny Lewis rang me out of the blue one day,” Wood recalls.
He said, “Mate, how are you doing?” I just bullshitted, “yeah, I’m good” but Lewis knew otherwise. “Don’t lie to me, I heard you’re in a bad place but I was thinking I might have a chance for you to turn your life around,”
‘The Contender’ series was a Godsend for Wood, who despite being a relative novice in the fight game, and a late replacement, went on to win the series. Wood proved he had the fortitude to not only turn his life around but to also beat the odds against some of Australia’s best boxers.
“Once I walked into that Contender I just transformed, I was always seeing everything as a negative, but now I was turning it into a positive. I knew this was where I was going to turn my life around and make everyone proud,”
The big fight with Anthony Mundine followed and once again, despite being a long shot, Wood showed his grittiness and resolve when he stopped his more fancied rival.
For most of us Garth Wood’s story is viewed through his great sporting achievements but for the man himself beating depression was a much bigger victory.
His involvement with the R U OK foundation is something close to his heart and being an ambassador for such a worthy cause is now his focus. To help others who are going through the same things he went through is very important to him.
“I really didn’t like telling the story about it because there was a lot of dark stuff that I don’t like to talk about,” says Wood. “But the fact is I was down in the dumps and you need a good support group during those times,”
“You’re not weak to call out to someone and say I’m not doing too well can you give me a hand.”
For anyone that feels a friend or loved one might be suffering from depression or anxiety, Wood’s message is simple
“If you think someone’s down in the dumps or if you’re not sure if they’re in a good place, just ask are you okay?”
“Which is how it should be everyday. You should be aware of everyone, your work colleagues, your relatives, your best mates. You should just always be looking out for each other.”
For more information on depression, suicide prevention and R U OK Day visit the their website.
Words: Dan Attias/Follow Dan on Twitter
Photo: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images