Ultra-cyclist Jack Thompson climbs long and winding road to recovery
Thompson explains his insatiable urge to cycle like a drug addict might describe their cravings. “I get that real endorphin rush,” he says.
“It is such a euphoric feeling after every ride, whether it’s a half an hour easy tap or a 14-hour monster training ride.”
Thompson, 30, realises the irony in his words, given it was cycling that pulled him out of a dark depression amplified by illicit drugs.
The Claremont-raised rider quit his job as a project manager in 2015 to pursue adventure cycling full-time and has built a huge following among Perth’s cycling scene.
He has achieved feats most consider impossible, including riding unsupported alone across the Himalayas, up the world’s toughest climb in Taiwan four times in 48 hours and across the Nullarbor twice.
In July he plans to cycle the Tour de France in half the time of the professional peloton by riding through the nights and days.
Rewind almost a decade and Thompson came terrifyingly close to taking his own life.
The ultra-cyclist’s lowest point was during his university days when bikes were the last thing on his mind.
“I was cycling all through school, but I stopped in Year 12,” he said.
“When I went to uni I started going to the gym and lifting weights, partying really hard and mixing with the wrong crowd.”
Thompson’s hedonistic lifestyle came crashing down when his parents found a cache of illegal drugs in his room in 2010.
“I came off the drugs cold turkey and went into a massive hole,” he said.
During his stint in a day rehabilitation clinic, Thompson unravelled — and he thought in detail about ending his life.
“My mind was away with the fairies and I was just so negative, thinking about how I was going to do it,” he said.
“If it hadn’t been for my friends and family and the support around me, it makes me nervous to think about what may have happened.”
Thompson’s struggle with depression was not his first with mental health issues — he also lives with obsessive compulsive disorder.
“That manifested when I was in Year 8. I remember Mum saying to me, ‘I think you’ve got an issue’. I had all these rituals and I didn’t know what they were about,” he said.
“If I was anxious about x I might do a little ritual and x wouldn’t happen. It was almost as if I didn’t need anyone to reassure me, I could reassure myself.”
Therapy and medication helped him cope with the difficulties he faced growing up and Thompson continues to take antidepressants today.
When he finally accepted his dad’s invitation to cycle around the river in 2011, he started to regain his sense of self.
“My relationship with Dad was really at a low point when he found the drugs. He was trying really hard to mend it and he said why don’t you come for a ride,” Thompson said.
“I don’t know what it was but one time he said it I must have been in a good mood and I said, ‘OK, I will’. “At the end of that ride, I was addicted again. I remember getting online and looking for bikes because I wanted to have my own.”
After his recovery, a conversation with a friend about high suicide rates among young people prompted Thompson to take action.
“I thought if I can save someone else’s life by talking about my own experience, that would be huge.”
An Instagram post laying bare his struggles with depression and encouraging others to speak out drew 1000 likes, hundreds of comments and personal messages.
“When I posted that I didn’t know what to expect,” he said.
Within minutes, a cascade of messages from people all around the world flooded Thompson’s inbox.
“I didn’t know who they were, they were saying thanks so much. They felt they were better equipped to live with it knowing there were people who came across like they were successful people, like they had nothing wrong with them but they were also suffering, it was like they could relate,” he said.
Thompson captured the attention of Lifeline, who brought him on board as an ambassador for tomorrow’s Dams Challenge.
If it hadn’t been for my friends and family and the support around me, it makes me nervous to think about what may have happened.
The annual event includes 53km, 136km and 205km rides and is a popular goal for more than 1500 WA riders.
Lifeline WA chief executive Lorna MacGregor said of the 409 West Australians who took their own lives last year, 75 per cent were men.
“Yet of all the people who reach out to Lifeline, only 30 per cent are men,” she said.
“We continue to actively try to find ways to reach young men, and role models like Jack are a terrific way of getting that message out.”
She said research showed cycling had several potential mental health benefits, including camaraderie, interacting with nature and physical exercise.
Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.
Sign up for our emails