Picture by 2014 Getty Images

Meet Cyrille Tchatchet II - The refugee weightlifter who went from homeless to British record holder

The IOC Refugee Athlete Scholarship-holder from Cameroon overcame depression to become a model student, and is hoping to compete at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021.
By Andrew Binner

In 2014 Cyrille Tchatchet II considered ending his life.

Just weeks after finishing fifth in the 85kg weightlifting event at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, the Cameroon native found himself penniless, hungry and destitute in Brighton.

"I'd thought about suicide for a long time,” he told BBC Sport. “I just wanted to end it all.”

After finishing the competition in Glasgow, the then 19-year-old fled the team camp as he didn’t feel safe enough to return to his homeland for reasons he still cannot discuss.

He lived rough on the streets and had no way of providing for himself.

"It got to the point where I thought 'why am I even doing this? Why am I wasting time? Just kill yourself'," he continued. "I was living under a bridge in a new city in a new country. I knew nobody.”

But then Tchatchet made a decision that was to alter his life forever.

He saw the phone number for the Samaritans - a charity that provides emotional support to anyone in emotional distress - and using the last of his phone credit, decided to give them a call.

"They asked me where I am and I think they're the ones who called the police because then I saw the police car coming. The good thing is they stopped me."

Initially, it didn’t seem like such great news. After being taken into custody, the teenager was moved to an immigration removal centre in Dover, and feared that deportation was looming.

But as his asylum case progressed, things started to look up and he was eventually rehoused in Birmingham. With a more secure living situation secured he could concentrate on improving his mental health, which had deteriorated over his two years in Britain.

He went to see a local GP, who prescribed him antidepressants and exercise. Luckily, the patient had been a weightlifter since the age of 14, and needed no second invitation to get back into his sport.

Tchatchet started training at his local club and it wasn’t long before he was competing in British regional championships.

After becoming British champion at 94kg and 96kg with a host of national records, the International Olympic Committee rewarded him with a Refugee Athlete Scholarship. With extra funding, he was able to focus on trying to make the Refugee Team at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021.

"One of the dreams of any sportsperson is to be considered for the Olympics," he told Olympics.com. "It's a pleasure to be among those who are considered to represent the Refugee Olympic Team for Tokyo."

Living a more settled and happy life allowed Tchatchet to focus on his future outside of sport too.

He began studying to become a mental health nurse, in order to help rehabilitate others who experienced similar trauma to himself. The model student graduated with a first-class degree from Middlesex University, and now hopes to begin a Master’s degree alongside his training.

For now, his focus is on qualifying for the 96kg weightlifting event at Tokyo 2020. But he will be happy, whether he achieves his aim or not.

"Simply taking part in sports has allowed me to stop thinking, basically," he said of returning to the pastime that makes him happiest.

His message to other refugees is simple: "You can do it. Go for it!"