To coincide with Mental Health Awareness Week, we caught up with gymnast Dom Cunningham about how suffering a severe injury on one of the biggest stages in gymnastics, had a knock-on negative effect on his mental wellbeing. 

The Gold Coast 2018 medallist also explained how he overcame these psychological and physical challenges to reach the top of the sport once again.

In April 2019, I was at the European Championships and made the floor final and did a massive performance and thought ‘right, I’m on it, I’m on it’. Then on the vault, I don’t really know what happened, but I landed on a straight leg and my leg hyperextended backwards, and I felt a massive tear and a rip. 

I ended up doing a stage 2 tear on the RCL, a partial tear on the ACL, and a stage 1 tear on the hamstring ligament.

As always, you’re in denial of how bad the actual situation is, so as soon as I went back to the medical team, I thought I was alright and still up for doing the floor final. But I sat down with the team and they were like your leg is pretty severe, you aren’t going to be able to do this in a week, so I was on about an 18-week programme just to walk again. 

It was very hard, because I’m seeing guys working towards the World Championships and I’m in a massive leg brace, and it was hard, it was knocking me down, I wanted to work hard, but I wasn’t allowed to, so I did go into a massive hole. 

At that point I had to come off social media. I was seeing people be happy or they’re on holiday, they’re doing this, they’re doing that, so I ended up just coming off social media and I was like, I can’t do it.

It’s mentally scarred me, no one’s leg should ever go that way and it does hurt me even today. It was a pretty dark point in my life where I just saw how easy it is to lose everything. 

I had a vision and I gave myself a point to aim for, so I was targeting the World’s which was getting closer. I picked up my game and then I started to train really hard, and we were in a very good position but obviously I’m only talking about a snippet here. This took me weeks, months to repair but I knew that I needed to go to this World Championships. 

Whatever I was thinking I just put it in the back of my mind and pushed really hard. I brought a lot of people closer to me who were there for me at the time, like my friends, my family, I saw they were there for me when I had my bad leg.

But we took it on the chin, bounced back and turned it into a positive and we’re here now, I made the World Championships, I made the floor and vault final, the only GB gymnast to make two individual finals. Everyone was just over the moon with how I came back and I’ve never really had that fight in me before. I’m back on the journey now, and I’m not giving up, not that easy anyway.