Surviving suicide to find his purpose
From playing Rugby League at the elite level in Australia to holding belts in the boxing arena, Joe Williams always had goals… until he didn’t.
Diving in deep is all he has ever known. From playing Rugby League at the elite level in Australia to holding belts in the boxing arena, Joe Williams always had goals… until he didn’t. “Diving in” in retirement eventually led him to finding his newfound purpose, albeit taking a suicide attempt to find it. Joe believes there are two important days in your life, the day you are born and the day you find out why you are born. The second for Joe, his survival from a suicide attempt thrust him into something bigger, into his purpose he told A4L.
“As a sportsperson at the highest level, you always seem to have a goal to work towards. Now that I don’t have goals, retirement has been a continuous struggle”
In full disclosure, Joe professes to having had “immense challenges mentally” for large parts of his life, although these challenges were more manageable to a degree whilst participating in sport at the highest level – especially whilst boxing. “As a sportsperson at the highest level, you always seem to have a goal to work towards. Now that I don’t have goals retirement has been a continuous struggle”. The emotional rollercoaster that is professional sport was a struggle for Joe, too. Free from drug and alcohol use for fifteen years now, Joe’s resilience in this area likely comes from his boxing days. Joe told A4L, “It gave me a different type of resilience and mental edge that I never had with rugby league”. Nonetheless, it is a constant and often daily battle for Joe to ensure he is at his best from a mental health perspective.
“(boxing) gave me a different type of resilience and mental edge that I never had with rugby league”
Since retiring, surviving his suicide attempt and transitioning into the mental health space, Joe has touched thousands upon thousands of lives with his foundation – The Enemy Within. Joe has received many awards over the years for his relentless commitment to the mental health and suicide prevention sectors, including being named a dual winner of the Australian Mental Health Prize in 2019. He is also a published author, his autobiography ‘Defying The Enemy Within’ not only shares his life story, but also offers tools for others whom may be experiencing difficulties with their emotional wellbeing, too.
Being a proud First Nation man, Joe has dedicated his time to ensuring he is a positive influence on other First Nation athletes around the world. He believes there are some important ingredients missing in the ways in which First Nation athletes are cared for in professional sport. “We pay so much attention to a young person's physical and mental needs as an athlete, but we tend to neglect the spiritual needs of individuals”. Joe has dedicated parts of his work to ensuring spiritual strength and contentment is established to keep these athletes on track – something he has purposefully reengaged with himself since retiring.
Throughout it all, Joe maintains that to be physically and mentally at his best he needs goals to work towards and a structure to help him tackle his personal challenges, he needs to dive in. For this reason Joe Williams has committed to run the Sydney Marathon on September 20, 2020 for Athletes For Life – and we cannot wait to see him at the finish line. Another challenge, another sport, same purpose.