"I like to tell people that you take care of your body because you want to stay healthy; your mind is the same. Your mind needs to be fed positive things. They both need to be healthy for you to function. What got me through was focusing on my love for athletics - giving up on it wasn’t an option as it had got me so far and I knew it could take me further."
When times get tough for Deja Young, she just looks at her wrist for a reminder of the events of the past and the key to her future.
The double Paralympic and world champion has a tattoo there, with three simple words – ‘just keep going’.
It’s a mantra the 22-year-old USA athlete lives by as she looks ahead to the 2019 World Championships in November, for the last three years have not only been a source of triumph and celebration, they have tested Young’s mental strength and fortitude to the core.
In the build-up to the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, Young, who competes in the T47 class after suffering nerve damage to her shoulder during childbirth, was battling with anxiety and depression.
“I don’t mind telling that I did have a suicide attempt before the Games,” she reflected. “At that point I was alone and thinking, why am I really doing this? Why am I here and what is my purpose? And I really had to find that.
“But when I got to the Games I found my purpose; I knew where I wanted to be, what I wanted to do.”
The Texas-born athlete stormed home to two Paralympic titles, winning 100m and 200m T47 gold, but it wasn’t long before she faced her next significant hurdle.
Accident and London success
Young was involved in a serious car accident about three months after the Games. Driving back to Kansas for university from her family home in Texas, her car hydroplaned in the rainy conditions and rolled in to a ditch.
Young’s injuries were so severe – she tore her right wrist and fractured her left, leaving her unable to use both arms - she had to finish the following semester at home.
“My beautiful mum fed me, showered me and did everything for me as I couldn’t use my hands,” said Young, who finally returned to the track in May, two months before London 2017.
“It was a long process and very mentally draining. I went through a very deep depression and it was really hard. So when I got to London for the World Championships I didn’t know what to expect. I was a nervous wreck.”
Young needn’t have been worried. She defended her global titles in both the 100m and 200m T47, claiming another major sprint double in only her second year of Para athletics.
“It was absolutely amazing – and it was the greatest thing having my mum in the stands as she knew everything that I’d gone through and had seen how broken I was.”
Young is deservedly proud of what she has accomplished, both on and off the track. She’s also determined to help others suffering in a similar way.
“I look back at the person I was and it’s like night and day,” she explained.
“I like to tell people that you take care of your body because you want to stay healthy; your mind is the same. Your mind needs to be fed positive things. They both need to be healthy for you to function.
“What got me through was focusing on my love for athletics - giving up on it wasn’t an option as it had got me so far and I knew it could take me further.
“I knew that my story could not only help myself but help others. That’s one of my biggest things, I want to do more. I want to speak on mental health, on breaking down barriers.”
Young is now reaping the rewards of her mental and physical strength and has world records in her sights too.
Having joined Joaquim Cruz’s training group full-time last year, she is based at the US Olympic Training Centre in Chula Vista, California.
“I’m so focussed now on training, so that’s something really different - and I’m really excited how it shows in my performances and my competing,” said Young, who competed at last month’s Arizona Grand Prix and has already set new national records in all three of her events - the 100m, 200m and 400m T47 - having opened her season in early March.
“I can see a difference in my body and I’m running faster than I have been last year. I’m looking for the world record in the 100 metres – it’s been a long time coming.
“I’ve run the time [11.95 set by Cuba’s Yunidis Castillo in 2012] but it’s either been too windy, or at an unsanctioned meet, so I was like, this is the year for me to do it.
“It’s coming; I know it’s there, I know I have it in me, so I’m really looking forward to showing what I have this year.”