Incredible story of weightlifter Cyrille Tchatchet who competes in the Commonwealths in Birmingham

It’s fair to say that Cyrille Tchatchet has had eight eventful years since his last appearance at the Commonwealth Games. “I was homeless, then I was a refugee, now I’m a proud British citizen,” the weightlifter told Sportsmail.

It only scratches the surface of a life punctuated by three major sporting events under three different flags.

At the Glasgow Games in 2014, Tchatchet competed for his home country, Cameroon. At last year’s Olympic Games in Tokyo, he was a member of the Refugee Olympic Team. Now Tchatchet represents England at the Commonwealths in Birmingham – the town where he was housed while seeking asylum.

“I drive around Birmingham and see all the banners and think of about eight years ago when I was battling depression and fighting to stay in the UK,” the 26-year-old explains from his training base at Brierley Hill in Dudley. “Eight years ago I was ground zero, but now I’ve been selected to represent England. I can’t really believe it. It’s a great feeling to see where I am today.

So how did Tchatchet get to ground zero, as he puts it? It was a downward spiral that began immediately after his test in Glasgow, where he finished fifth. Scared for his life following a threat from his home country of Cameroon – the exact nature of which he wishes to keep secret – he left the athletes’ village and embarked on a new life, alone in the street.

“Something happened that made me make this really big decision to just go out and hope for the best,” he reveals. “I feared for my safety. I was being blackmailed. I thought I might as well get out of there and whatever happens, happens. So after competing, the next day I picked up my backpack and hit the streets of Glasgow.

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After spending a night sleeping rough in the Scottish town, Tchatchet took an elevator to London. He was then advised to travel further south to Brighton and this is where he stayed for two months. It was an unhappy existence that almost led him to commit suicide.

“I slept under this bridge,” he recalls. “Before, I ate biscuits. With the little money I had, I bought pastry creams at Lidl. I was very alone. I felt useless. I thought back to the previous months when I was competing for my country. Now I was in a very vulnerable position.

“I was just depressed. I didn’t really see a way out. I used to watch the sea day after day. I felt like I just wanted to jump into the sea and see what happened. I went to the top of the road one day and was just thinking about something that would be fast.

Fortunately, Tchatchet was saved by a sign from Samaritans.

“He was like, ‘If you’re feeling bad, call this number and talk to someone,’ so I did,” he explains. “I described where I was and what my plans were and she kept me on the phone until the police arrived.”

“He was like, ‘If you’re feeling bad, call this number and talk to someone,’ so I did,” he explains. “I described where I was and what my plans were and she kept me on the phone until the police arrived.”

It was, however, the start of a new struggle for Tchatchet, as the police discovered that he was staying in the country illegally. After a night in a cell — “the bed was comfortable, it was better than sleeping in the street” — his notary advised him to seek asylum.

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He was then transferred to immigration centers in Dover and London. “They’re more like a prison,” Tchatchet says. “I was afraid they would send me back to Cameroon.”

Instead, the Home Office sent him to Birmingham, where he stayed in a hostel for asylum seekers. This is where some semblance of normality finally returned to her life.

“I googled weightlifting clubs in Birmingham and walked to the University of Birmingham and saw people doing weightlifting there,” he says. “One of them took me to another club, Warley in Smethwick, and I met the coach who told me I could come and train anytime. This was me back to weightlifting full time.

Tchatchet’s life has gotten better ever since. He was granted refugee status in February 2016 and began studying mental health nursing at Middlesex University a few months later. A 2019 graduate, Tchatchet is now back in the Midlands, living in Walsall and working from nine to five as a senior mental health practitioner.

“We provide care for patients with severe and persistent mental disorders,” he explains. ‘It’s rewarding. You see a lot of progress and you feel valued, like you have a role to play in this patient’s life.

As for his own sanity, Tchatchet – who trains for two and a half hours each evening in the gym after work – has never been happier. “I enjoy life,” he smiles. “I have a job, I train, I compete, I have a house, I live with my partner. I am well placed. I have no reason to be sad.

How, then, does he reflect on this turbulent period after Glasgow? “It was a good experience for me,” he says surprisingly. “I got to see things that a lot of people probably wouldn’t believe were happening in the UK. It taught me resilience. I got to a point where I was like, ‘No more resilience, I have to get off this planet’, but after that I became more optimistic. I feel like I got lucky in a way.

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Tchatchet also felt lucky last year when he competed in the Olympics for the Refugee Olympic Team – a concept that began at Rio 2016. He had the honor of carrying the Olympic flag during the opening ceremony, with five other participants from different continents. .

“Tokyo was great,” smiled Tchatchet, who finished 10th in the 96kg class. “It was my first international event after a long, long time and I felt really included. It was an excellent initiative.

While the Olympics have been the highlight of Tchatchet’s career to date, one of the best moments of his life came in February this year when he was granted British citizenship. “It was the conclusion of a long battle,” he says. “It was the icing on the cake of my immigration trip.”

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