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Away from the high-octane world of BMX, New Zealand rider Cailen Calkin is exploring the mental health issues that have brought tragedy close to home

BUENOS AIRES – When Linkin Park singer Chester Bennington died by suicide in July 2017, his passing inspired BMX rider Cailen Calkin to explore a career in clinical psychology.

The 16-year-old from Hamilton on New Zealand’s North Island - who finished in fifth place in the mixed racing event on Sunday alongside partner Jessie Smith - has used his time at the Youth Olympic Games to turn the spotlight on mental health.

“His music touched me,” said Calkin. “When he died, it hurt me for a month and that’s what gave me the courage to do this.

“I want to be a clinical psychologist and I want to get to the pinnacle of my sport, not just so I can say I’m the best, but to help people.

“Getting to Tokyo 2020 [for the Olympic Games] would give me a platform. My aim here was to podium and to speak about the fact that we need to destigmatise the idea that asking for help is weak – it’s the strongest thing you can do.”

Calkin's New Zealand teammate Jessie Smith goes through her paces on the BMX track on Sunday (Thomas Lovelock for OIS/IOC)

Tragedy closer to home has also inspired Calkin, who claimed that life can be lonely for athletes who sometimes live in their own heads for long periods of time.

“This year has been pretty traumatic for suicides,” he said. “I’ve had a friend who I grew up riding mountain bikes with who’s no longer with us. I see it a lot in our generation.

“If I didn’t have sport I would have probably done stupid stuff, but this controls me – I don’t party, I don’t drink, I don’t do any of that. This is what I live for.

“You go to a mentality that’s beyond this world (in a race). I love it and it’s something I channel my emotions through. I can go to the track angry and come home happy. It’s almost like my counsellor.”

Calkin – who studies psychology at school – plans on moving to Australia to train and compete while continuing his studies remotely.

Before that, however, he will be back in YOG action when he contests cycling's men's combined event between Saturday 13 and Wednesday 17 October.

Copy provided by OIS

Buenos Aires 2018 Olympic Summer Youth Games Cailen Calkin
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