Cyrille Tchatchet, weightlifter and Cameroon refugee, is proudly representing England at the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games.
The Commonwealth Games saved mental health nurse Cyrille Tchatchet. The weightlifter will represent Team England at Birmingham 2022 but competed at Glasgow 2014 for his native Cameroon, an experience which does not bring back fond memories. Tchatchet was in turmoil for reasons you sense he will take to his grave.
“I wasn’t there psychologically, I was tense and there were things going on in the team,” he said.
“Competition alone is enough to make an athlete stressed but having other things around you isn’t healthy and it affected me.
“I sprained my ankle on my second lift, which changed everything, and it wasn’t the greatest experience for me.”
Tchatchet finished fifth in the 85kg category, but it was what happened after the lights went out in Scotland that shaped the rest of his life. He decided to stay in Britain and seek asylum, spending two months homeless under a bridge in Brighton, experiencing dark periods of depression. After obtaining refugee status, Tchatchet went on to set British records while studying for a degree in Mental Health Nursing at Middlesex University.
“There’s been a lot of change in my life, a lot of change in my way of thinking and the way I see things, my communication skills,” he said.
“What I would say to the young Cyrille back then is, you must be brave. You have to be hopeful, and you have to keep pushing.
“I did go through very bad moments, but I was able to stand up and continue. I was supported by a lot of people, a lot of organisations, who helped me through.”
Tchatchet now works for the NHS as a senior practitioner on a community mental health team near his new home in Walsall. He believes that his own experiences of serious mental health issues equip him to make a difference to the lives of others.
“My journey helps me to be more empathetic, to be more understanding with my patients,” he said.
“Sometimes someone will express feelings and if you’ve not felt like that in the past, you might try and just brush it off.
“If you’ve experienced it, it does change your perception and the way you approach things and how you deal with people suffering.”
With the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games set to inspire people and communities across the country this summer, Tchatchet hopes sharing his story will give others motivation to get involved in sport and turn their dreams into reality. Tchatchet became an Olympian in Tokyo last summer, carrying the Refugee Olympic Team flag into the stadium.
Since last summer’s Olympics, the number of displaced people in the world has grown by a heart-breaking 20 million to reach 100 million for the first time. This is more than a number to Tchatchet.
“It’s sad, it really breaks my heart to hear this type of news,” he said.
“Back in 2018 I was proud to represent 62 million people, then I became proud to represent 68 million people.
“Going to Tokyo, it was about 80 million, now we are talking about 100 million displaced.
“That is big, it’s more than the population of the United Kingdom. Just imagine the whole of this country trying to find safety in a different part of the world. It’s sad.”
This summer, Team England, supported by National Lottery funding, will comprise of over 400 athletes in total, and having secured her place on the squad, Tchatchet is looking to capitalise on the once in a lifetime opportunity for medal success in his adopted home country.
Now mere miles from his new West Midlands home, Tchatchet will take to the Commonwealth Games platform in a very different state of mind.
“Being selected to represent Team England is an honour and it gives me the opportunity to achieve the dream I’ve always had, which is to win a Commonwealth Games medal.”
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