CINCINNATI - Olympic skier Nick Goepper has revealed the dark side of his success and he and his parents have detailed how depression and exhaustion led him to thoughts of suicide after winning a bronze medal in 2014.
“There came a point when I was drinking every day and I was constantly thinking about ways to end my own life,” the 23-year-old from Lawrenceburg, Indiana, said in an X Games video posted on YouTube over the weekend.
“He called one night and he said, ‘Mom, I’m thinking about going to get a bottle of vodka and go sit in my car in Lambs Canyon (Utah) and drink the whole thing,’” Linda Goepper said. “Lambs Canyon was where another skier had committed suicide (in 2011). I knew Nick was in trouble.”
In the video, the slopestyle skier also detailed his recovery. He said he spent two months in rehab in 2015 that enabled him to find himself again and get his trick skiing career back on track.
Goepper successfully completed the circle on Sunday -- one day after the video was posted -- when he made the U.S. team for the 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, next month. He is scheduled to compete in X Games 2018 in Aspen, Colorado, next weekend.
Goepper was just 19 when he competed in Sochi in February 2014 and only 20 when demons started to haunt him in what a U.S. Olympic team psychologist called a “post-Olympic hangover.”
“It’s pretty common for a lot of Olympic athletes,” said Dr. Alexander Cohen.
It could also be deadly.
A three-time Olympian, Jeret "Speedy" Peterson, won a silver medal at the 2010 Winter Olympics and shot himself to death in his home in Lambs Canyon a year later. Three days earlier, Peterson was arrested for DUI. He also had a lot of other personal problems that may have contributed to his suicide.
"We almost lost Nick. He almost killed himself,” his father Chris Goepper said.
In retrospect, Goepper said he wasn’t “ballsy enough” to go through with suicide.
“I was flirting with that idea. I wasn’t ballsy or committed enough to actually do it,” he said. “It was more like a really messed up way of saying, ‘Help me.’”
Fortunately for Goepper, his parents eventually heard his cries and helped rescue him.
Goepper’s problems began in the buildup to the 2014 Olympics, said his former coach, Mike Hanley.
“Going into the 2013-2014 season, there was a lot of pressure on Nick,” said Hanley. “He had won nearly every other event that there was and now those accomplishments were actually going to be boiled down into a single day of competition in Sochi.”
When he didn’t win, Goepper said, he almost felt “cynical” about it.
“I was disappointed. Almost had it. Almost had that gold,” he laughed in the video interview.
After Goepper and teammates swept the medals in their event, they were hustled off to New York to begin a national media tour. Goepper’s mother said he completely exhausted himself by making too many public appearances around the country.
“Nick kept saying, ‘I want to do this. I want more … I want to do the right thing,’” his mother said. She said he made more than 60 appearances.
“It just ended up way more than he should have done,” she said.
Goepper's father said the young man was overwhelmed.
“That summer of 2014 I really experienced this emotional distress,” Goepper said.
“It was real messed up and I would go to bed at night and I’d want the night to be really long,” he said. “I would literally stay up all night because that was how the time would tick by the slowest, thinking that the morning would never come. “Then all of a sudden the sun would come, and I’d be like, ‘Another day of feeling this way’ and it just sucks.”
Hanley said Goepper often felt lonely.
“Not a lot of people who really relate to where he was at," Hanley said. "He felt guilty about even asking for help at that point.”
One night in August, Goepper found himself throwing rocks at cars near his Lawrenceburg home. When he turned himself in in December, it was the first time Goepper’s personal troubles became public. Goepper faced criminal charges, but he paid for the damages and went into a diversion program.
Goepper said he went back to Utah where he lived at a ski academy and started drinking again. He would call home and his mother would fly to his side.
“She’d think I was all good. She’d come and hang out with me for a week ... try to get me back in a good routine, and I knew immediately after she left I was going to go get drunk in my car and just waste the time away,” Goepper said.
“Unfortunately, I took advantage of my mom. I took advantage of my mom’s support.”
Things changed when he finally listened to his parents’ pleas.
“The fall of 2015, with the help of my mom, I went to rehab – to a recovery center in Texas for two whole months,” Goepper said. “A huge turning point for me was talking to other people and befriending other people at this recover center where I could relate to and talk to and share similar stories with. That was hugely inspiring.
“I started to rediscover some of the core values I grew up with. I started exercising more and I just felt stronger. I just felt like the old me.”
Goepper went back home for a while before going back to skiing. He wasn’t sure he was ready.
“Honestly, leaving Texas was incredibly scary. I really didn’t have a plan. I didn’t know what I was going to do,” he said. “I had this kind of a moment where – I don’t know – it all came back to me."
That's when things started to improve, Hanley said.
“Once he was clear-headed enough to acknowledge the highs and the lows, the package deal that came with it, he started training again,” Hanley said. “He started caring about skiing.”
It all came back to him at the 2017 X Games in Norway, where he finished second, Goepper said. Goepper had won the gold at X Games for three straight years – 2013-2015 – and returning to that event was comfortable - like going home.
“X Games Norway was awesome. I was just satisfied. I’m back in that happy place where I wasn’t for a while,” Goepper said. “I’m back up there. That’s where I’m supposed to be.”
Goepper said he’s not ashamed about his past problems.
“Who knows? Maybe I’ll never want to talk about it ever again. Maybe I’ll want to step into an active role for mental health and awareness,” he said. “But right now that’s just part of my story, something that just happened to me.
“It’s just part of Nick.”