Matt Antoine's level of fame soared after he won an Olympic bronze medal two winters ago. He was asked to make appearances and speeches. Everyone wanted to snap a photo of him and the bronze that he won at the Sochi Games, and people seemed to have more interest in the niche sport of skeleton than he could remember.
His life seemed perfect.
Appearances were deceiving.
Behind the smile in all those photos, Antoine was in serious pain. Nothing made sense. He needed help making life's simplest decisions, and while he was thrilled to win a medal, there was the overwhelming sense of ''what now?'' after crossing that goal off his list. Eventually he was diagnosed with depression, a condition he elected to reveal publicly on the eve of a new sliding season with hopes of reaching other athletes that he believes are fighting the same battle.
''Everyone, at some point, needs help,'' Antoine said. ''In the sports world, I think it's a very common thing. What I've done is try to take control over my life, to change the situations I don't like and put myself in a better position. At first I almost felt defeated that I had to seek medical and professional help. It felt like I had lost.
''I don't feel that way anymore.''
Happier now than he's been in a long while, and with the help of anti-depressant medication, Antoine remains one of the top American hopes for sliding medals this winter. Bobsled and skeleton open their World Cup seasons this weekend in Altenberg, Germany, while luge's World Cup schedule begins Saturday in Igls, Austria.
Antoine won two medals in World Cup competition last year to lead the U.S. skeleton team. In bobsled, veteran pilots Elana Meyers Taylor, Jamie Gruebel Poser and Steven Holcomb will be favorites for more medals this winter, and the fast-improving luge program features former world champion and 2014 Sochi medalist Erin Hamlin, World Cup race winner Tucker West and longtime medal hopeful Chris Mazdzer leading its charge.
''We had a lot of great success last year,'' Mazdzer said, looking back on USA Luge's haul of 13 World Cup medals last season. ''It's easy moving forward knowing that it's possible to replicate that.''
Antoine has as much reason to be hopeful as any U.S. slider.
First, he's still a threat to challenge for wins when he throws himself headfirst down just about any track in the world at speeds topping 80 mph, as he's shown repeatedly in recent winters. Second, and perhaps more importantly to him right now, he feels as though he's made real strides in his personal life. Sliders tend to have nomadic existences given their travel schedules, but in the past year Antoine bought a house in Arizona and finally got a dog.
For his progress toward regaining some sense of normalcy, those were huge steps.
''I probably spent two weeks at the end of last season where I would just wake up in the morning and not get out of my sweatpants or sweatshirt and just sit there, like I was waiting for something to happen instead of actually going out and doing something,'' Antoine said. ''It was more than buying a house for me. It was about building an identity, building a new life, having a place to put my stuff.''
The golden retriever spends winters with Antoine's mom in Wisconsin, and the house needs some remodeling - a serious hobby of Antoine's anyway. When he leaves sliding, presumably after the 2018 Olympics in South Korea, it wouldn't surprise anyone who knows Antoine if something in the home-improvement field became his next career move.
There are still bad days mixed in with the good ones, but the darkest moments are fewer now.
''I've been doing this sport for 13 years,'' Antoine said. ''When it's the only thing you think about, it's the only thing you live, it eventually burns you out and you need opportunities to reset. That's what I think I've finally done.''