Olympic medalist Nick Willis opens up about his Rio dreams, death of his mother and freedom from a porn addiction
New-Zealand born middle distance runner Nick Willis is not ashamed to share that although he achieved his dream to stand on the Olympic podium, his life has not always been rosy.
An undeniable highlight of Nick's career was his bronze decoration at the 2008 Beijing Olympics for the 1500 metre race, which became a silver medal when gold medalist Rashid Ramzi of Bahrain tested positive for a blood-boosting drug.
Nick wants to prove his success was not a fluke by snatching a second Olympic medal in Rio this August.
"It'd be a way to stamp my career," Nick says.
"Quite a few people who win a medal are one-hit wonders, and I'd really like a backup medal."
And this seems a very achievable goal for the 33-year-old whose improvement curve still arcs upward despite the fact that, according to Runner's World writer Cathal Dennehy, "accepted wisdom insists he should be in decline".
In 2014, at 31, he ran personal bests for the 1500m (3:29.91) and mile (3:49.83).
Nick's success is credited not only to raw talent and wisdom in training, but also to a motivation that "could not be coached" and that he believes is rooted in the void he felt after his mother passed away from cancer when he was age four.
"I had an unnatural amount of motivation," he recalls.
"I always used sport as a means to get respect and adulation from the community after my mum died. I wanted to feel like I had some means of significance. There was something in my mind, some innate desire. I had to win."
But with a habit of heavy drinking and destructive relationships with girls developing in his years at the University of Michigan in the States, Nick did not like who he was becoming.
"I asked myself, 'Is this who I really want to become, a fella that uses and abuses people?'"
And around that time, he also started asking questions about God.
"I realised, if my mum's up there in heaven, then there must be a God up there, too," he says.
His older brother, Steve, put him in touch with a group called Athletes in Action, a Christian sports ministry at the university.
There, Nick began to finally deal with the grief of his mother's death, which he had stored up throughout his adolescence.
"It was a really healthy process," he says.
"I started to actually enjoy crying and remembering my mother. My outlook on how I approached university life was completely different from then on."
In October 2003, Nick decided God was real and chose to surrender his life to Jesus.
He turned away from his old habits; the change was immediate and he has not touched a drop of alcohol since.
His relationship with God also impacted the way he saw his sport. It was no longer about winning the praise of people but about bringing honour and glory to his Creator.
"Once I understood who I was in God, how He created me to love me for who I am and not for what I do, that freed me from a lot of those empty, non-sustaining motives for doing my sport," he says.
Currently living in the USA with his wife Sierra and their 2-year-old son Lachlan, Nick has gotten a lot of media coverage in recent months following a Facebook post in which he opened up about his long struggle with pornography addiction— and the fact that he was already two and a half years porn-free.
"Since I was a teenager, it had been a rollercoaster of ride of shame and justification as I was on and off with this addiction," he wrote.
"Not until I realised the true implications this had on my marriage and my ability to be a father, could I finally break free."
Nick told news media his addiction began when he was exposed to magazines and videos in his teenage years, and the objectification of the women in this media gave him a distorted view of true intimacy.
"Porn makes you think you are having sexual needs met, but really they are hollow and [it] leaves you feeling empty and lonelier than before," he says.
"Basically, pornography is a very unnatural (and very temporary) solution that people use to satisfy a natural desire."
He said his eyes were opened to pornography as a distortion of sex and women, and hopes his public stance will help others succeed in winning their own battle.
"Don't believe the lie that this is a natural and fine thing for men to participate in," he advises.
"It will affect everything in your life, especially your ability to experience true intimacy.
"Bring your secret life out into the open ... say never again and walk away."•