WHEN Naomi O’Connell was just 18 years old, her world all but fell apart.
At a time when her peers were battling pimples and nightclub cover charges, Naomi was dealing with her brother’s sudden suicide.
Twelve years on and this Dayboro superstar has decided to make it her mission to raise awareness and money for the cause through her initiative, Laps for Life.
Naomi said her brother James was buried on his 25th birthday.
After a wonderful Christmas together as a family, James set off back to Perth where he was working on fishing trawlers.
Naomi and her family were none the wiser as they hugged James goodbye for what would be the final time.
“He went back over to Perth and a few weeks later we got the message that he had taken his own life,” Naomi said.
“James was the eldest and I am the youngest, so we had that great brother-sister relationship and were all pretty close.”
Naomi said her brother suffered depression, but wasn’t taking any medication for it and rarely spoke about it.
“I don’t know whether things just got too much for him or what,” she said.
“The thing about suicide is it’s 12 years on now and I’m still asking why.
“No one ever knows.”
Constantly playing back the memories, Naomi said she still wonders how she could have helped her brother – who wasn’t openly discussing his mental illness.
“I think that played a big part – you can only bottle things up for so long before you get to that bad of a place,” she said.
“I’ve been sad before, but I can’t imagine being in that dark of a place.
“I can’t even imagine what he was going through.”
Now a mother herself, Naomi said looking at her own three children had given her a whole new perspective on the issue.
“I have three kids of my own now, and I look at it from a different perspective again – parents just aren’t meant to bury their kids.
“I know my parents – James being their first born – blamed themselves a lot, when they really didn’t do anything wrong.”
Naomi said while the pain and confusion were still as raw as if it had happened yesterday, one thing she can change is what she does tomorrow.
Constantly supporting other worthwhile charities, she thought it was time she did something for her brother.
“I found myself doing a lot for all of these other great charities, when suicide prevention is close to my heart and there was just not a lot out there to raise money for suicide prevention or depression.”
Naomi has made it her goal to swim a whopping 400 laps, or 10km, of the local Dayboro pool to raise $10,000 and equally important awareness for Suicide Prevention Australia.
Swimming 10km equals
- More than four hours’ jogging
- About six hours of aerobics
- 10 hours of volleyball
- 10 pieces of fried chicken
- 41 apples
- 15 packets of chips
Naomi said she was “comfortable in the water”, and was hoping to complete her swim in just over three hours.
A personal trainer and fitness instructor at the pool, Naomi is training full pelt for the big day.
“I am doing a lot of swimming and also training outside of the pool as well – I have my own little programs to keep my fitness up.”
With funds raised currently sitting at an impressive $6218, Naomi said support had snowballed.
“I had in my head I might raise $200, go down to the pool and do my laps.
“I then went to $2000 but that got blown out in the first week.”
Having only been living in Dayboro for a year, Naomi said she had been blown away by the community response.
“They are offering help and are awesome people – I wish I had moved here 10 years ago.
“People are just donating and I haven’t even asked anyone for money yet.”
However, Naomi said she could raise a million dollars, but it wouldn’t change anything without the awareness.
“Before James’ death, I didn’t know very much about suicide – no one really talks about it.
“Few people are aware that six lives a day are lost to suicide in Australia.”
Throughout her campaign, Naomi said she had drawn comfort from her followers.
“My driving force has been hearing about all the similar stories that other people have gone through as well,” she said.
“If you have depression or bipolar, it should be okay to be able to say that. It’s so important to talk about mental illness.”
Naomi’s big swim is planned for September 13 at the Dayboro pool, with food and entertainment for the whole family included.
T-shirts will be on sale shortly, with all proceeds going to Suicide Prevention Australia.
Individuals are welcome to swim with Naomi in teams or solo.