Back in 2014, Zac Franich appeared to have it all. He was at the top of his game in sprint kayaking and firmly focused on achieving his Olympic dream. But all that came crashing down after a heartbreaking legal battle that saw the go-getting sports star reduced to a shadow of his former self.
“I went from being 100% motivated to spending half my life in bed,” the star of The Bachelor New Zealand tells us in a candid interview. “I spiralled into a really dark place and it got to the point where I didn’t know how to be happy any more. It was scary.”
Zac, 28, won widespread praise earlier this year after speaking out about his battle with depression on the Three reality series. It was a brave step, but he’s determined to show that it’s alright to be vulnerable.
“I made the decision that I’d go into this being totally open and honest. It’s really important to show people that even someone who might look strong and confident can have these feelings. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.”
Zac’s mental health battle began after he was picked as part of a two-person team to compete in the Canoe Sprint World Championships in Milan in 2015. He was elated, but his racing partner, Darryl Fitzgerald, wasn’t happy with the selection and appealed it in the High Court.
“He didn’t think I was good enough,” explains Zac. “To be told that after spending the past 13 years working so hard towards it was devastating. It was just unbelievable.”
After months of legal wrangling, Darryl changed his mind and the pair competed, but – unsurprisingly given what they’d been through – they underperformed and Zac’s dream of Olympic selection was left in tatters.
He explains, “For a while, I tried to carry on as normal, but I was spiralling lower and lower. I felt incredibly flat and very alone. I’d focused on the training for so long, I didn’t know what to do now it was gone.”
The surf-lifesaving coach admits that he bottled up his feelings for many months before finally confiding in two friends, telling them, “I think I might be depressed.” One pal then recommended a therapist, who Zac saw for the next five months.
He confesses, “She helped me so much because I finally had someone I could talk to and who validated all my feelings. It was such a relief to hear someone say that the way I was
feeling was understandable after everything I’d been through. I just needed to get everything off my chest.”
Zac was able to work through his depression without medication, saying, “Slowly I started going back to my old self, which was an amazing relief.”
And while sometimes Zac worries that the feelings might return, this time, he knows the importance of seeking help. “I would certainly get help sooner if it happens again. I’ve learnt that it’s so important to talk about these things and I really hope that by speaking out, it might help others who are struggling too.”