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Grant Hackett's challenge now is to find a way through the fog of illness

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Grant Hackett was a star in the pool when swimmers were household names. Like Kieren Perkins and Susie O'Neill, he rode his wave of success onto cereal boxes and television commercials; the very embodiment of a bronzed Australian champion.

For some, the constraints of the endless black lines finally make them fall apart. They crave freedom from the early starts, the relentless laps, the torturous solitude of the water, the barricades of the lane ropes and concrete walls.

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Family's plea to help Hackett

The family of Grant Hackett described the Olympic swimming great as "dangerous’" and in desperate need of help after his arrest at his parent's Gold Coast home. Courtesy Seven Network

For Hackett, we now know they were the only thing holding him together. His burly facade ... tall, broad, powerful ... cloaked the turmoil of a man who would find himself lost without the rigid structures of the sport that made him famous.

Vision of a groggy Hackett being driven into the Southport police station on the Gold Coast on Wednesday afternoon saddened those who had hoped he had turned a corner. His family, friends and former swimming colleagues desperately want him to regain his mental health.

His father Nev, a former policeman, felt he had no choice but to call for help as his son began to lose control at their Gold Coast home. For their protection, and his own, Hackett was taken into custody and released later in the day with no charge.

Hackett will now look for a fresh start – and this time it cannot be a false one. He has no choice but to lay bare his deepest problems to those who can help the most. In the past, he has made noises about serious, genuine reform. Now the stakes are too high to be ignored.


"The whole family have done everything that we can but now it's kind of out of our hands, it really is," his brother Craig told reporters. "This is not Grant Hackett. This is a completely different person. I don't know this person, my Mum and Dad don't know this person."

Footage of Hackett leaving the station to a throng of cameras made for difficult viewing. In most mental health cases, where police are forced to fill a widening gap in our health system, the entire scenario would have escaped attention.

For Hackett, who has endured a lifelong struggle under the spotlight, it only served to intensify the pressure. This has been a vicious circle from which he has yet to find a suitable escape. He craved success in the pool but never the added extras that went with stardom.

He is seeing doctors to help with his mental health concerns, as well as previous patterns of addiction. And he has so many reasons to motivate himself to find a way through the fog. Outside elite sport, his insatiable drive for results never found a real home. This now shapes as his enduring challenge.

At times, he's said he wants to be as far away from the swimming fraternity as possible, yet it has constantly been one of his great pillars. On Wednesday, prominent swimmers, officials and coaches were left stunned and concerned by developments. Many felt he had been making steady progress.

As a mentor to young athletes during his comeback, Hackett become somewhat of a Buddha figure among the budding Dolphins. His advice around racing and preparation was eagerly devoured to the point that many would have dearly loved his calming, poolside influence in Rio as nerves were frayed and races slipped away.

Even after his now infamous incident on the plane back from Adelaide after the national trials, he lost few fans among those he had hoped would be his teammates. To them, frailty only made him human, real and approachable.

All that now seems light years away as Hackett struggles to stay on top of his illness and issues. For him, his children and immediate family must now be the focus, as he will be of theirs. That it played out, once again, in front of cameras would have left him mortified.

On Australia Day, Hackett took to Instagram to post an image of him at his peak, diving into a pool in a racing suit and green and gold cap. "So proud and privileged to represent this great country of ours on many occasions," he wrote to his followers.

This is the vision Hackett has of himself, when he was in his prime and on top of the world. At some point, he has to realise he has worth far beyond a swimming pool, a black line and podium.