From darkness to light - How Daniel Chaves fought suicidal thoughts to qualify for Tokyo

Brazilian 5000m and 10,000m runner Daniel Chaves battled depression and drug addiction to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Chaves finished 15th at the London Marathon in April clocking 2:11:10.   -  Shreedutta Chidananda

February, 2018 - Daniel Chaves was standing on a bridge in Brasilia, convinced he had to end his life. He had had enough of the anger, the loneliness and the pain; he wanted relief and this was the only way he knew. “I had nothing or no one. No reason to be alive. I was inside my house for two months, just sitting in the dark. I was really alone, with drugs in my head. It was annoying to just keep consuming and consuming them. What do I do?”

A talented 5000 and 10,000m runner from Rio de Janeiro, Chaves had seen his career stagnate; there were no sponsors, and there seemed no future. So eight months before that day on the bridge, in the middle of a raging depression, he had quit the sport. “I had put on 8 kilos. Nothing was working well in my life. I was really angry with everyone.”

But Chaves didn’t jump. “A few seconds before, something just came over me,” he says. “I could see the light at that moment. And I felt, ‘OK, I cannot do this.’ I stepped back. That same evening I went to a psychiatrist. My life changed that day. I’m just so grateful.”

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These days, Chaves smiles a lot. On April 28, he finished 15th at the London Marathon, in a time of 2:11:10, inside the IAAF’s entry standard for the Tokyo Olympics (the Brazil squad will be announced later but Chaves is currently his country’s top-ranked marathoner and the first to have made the entry standard for Tokyo). “It’s a big thing to be in the Olympic Games,” he grins. “I know I have to improve a lot. But I can be one of the best athletes in the world soon.”

The Brazilian is in Bengaluru for Sunday’s TCS World 10K. He is happy to have revived his career, to be traveling around the world for races, to just be running. “After I went to the doctor, I started taking antidepressants for some weeks, just to be quiet, to be stable. Then I quit the chemicals and started running again, just 10-20 minutes every day; sport became my medicine. Now I’m stable. Every day I feel stronger. My spirit feels light. Sport can help save lives.”

Chaves’s quest for peace took him to the Community-of-Light of Figueira, a monastery in the hinterland of Minas Gerais, where he turned vegan and started meditating. When he left the place, he returned to full training, signing up for December’s Valencia Marathon — his first attempt at the distance.

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That Sunday afternoon in Spain, Chaves says, was another milestone. He finished 18th, in a time of 2:13:16. It was an affirmation that he was on the right track. “When I reached the finish line, I cried for 20 minutes. I thought, ‘I'm alive again.' When they gave me the medal, everybody was clapping. I just broke down.”

There is now a purpose to his life, says Chaves. “I want to make people believe they can beat this sickness (of depression). I was really at the bottom of the ocean, I was touching the rocks. It was deep, really deep. But I came up again.”

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