Why Grant Hackett’s family feared he’d never reach 40
There were some who feared Grant Hackett wouldn't see 40.
That fear was never more real than it was on Thursday, February 16, 2017, when the retired athlete's anxious father Neville and distraught mother Margaret stood outside the humble family home on the Gold Coast begging their son - via TV news bulletins - to make contact with them and come home.
"He's a danger to himself … we've reached the end of the road," Hackett's only sibling, older brother Craig told media in the hours prior.
"He had the world at his feet … such a role model to so many kids … and now no one knows what's going to happen. It doesn't look encouraging."
A day earlier 36-year-old Hackett had been arrested at the same address by eight police officers after Neville, a retired police officer, made a desperate call to the local boys in blue to ask for their help to settle down his "raving and ranting" boy.
After four publicised meltdowns in six years - the first in 2011 during the disintegration of his marriage to Candice Alley, the second in 2014 after an old Stilnox habit - a legacy of his Olympic career - caught up with him at Crown Casino, a third in 2016 when he was escorted drunk from a Virgin flight after a fellow passenger accused him of tweaking him, and a fourth following the fore-mentioned blow-up at his parent's home in 2017 - one of nation's toughest Olympic competitors and greatest swimmers looked to be the path to self-destruction.
That was until two men - both friends of Hackett's during his glorious Olympic career - reminded the retired swimming hero that somewhere within his Olympic training, within his champion DNA, he possessed the tools to bounce back, recover and move on.
The first of these was the most decorated Olympian of all time, US swimming great Michael Phelps, who was among the first to send Hackett birthday wishes when he made that 40-year milestone earlier this month.
Yesterday Phelps said: "All the work he's done to be able to find happiness and bring peace just brings a smile to my face. I've known him for pretty much my whole life and love him like a brother. It's amazing to see him (at 40) being the Hackey I knew once again."
It was to Phelps, now an active mental health advocate, and his wife Nicole that Hackett turned after checking out of a 30-day detox program in Malibu in March 2017.
Hackett spent two months at Phelps's Arizona home working on his recovery before flying home to Australia - and waiting media - in June 2017.
But three years after his last spectacular tumble from grace, life couldn't look more different for Hackett today.
In January he welcomed a baby with his partner of three years Sharlene Fletcher with whom he is currently planning a quickie no-frills COVID-19 friendly trip down the aisle later this year.
Little Edward "Eddie" Hackett, Hackett's third child, is now four months old and possesses his mother's dark eyes, his father's long lean body and curling tuck-under toes.
"It's been very different from when the twins were born," Hackett, who has 10-year-old twins, Jagger and Charlize, from his first marriage, said this week.
"With Charlize and Jagger there were grandparents on hand to help out but COVID-19 means that Eddie can't see his. They are all over the border - my folks are in Queensland and Sharlene's in South Australia. We're pretty much on our own."
Luckily both sets of grandparents squeezed in one visit in before the borders were shut.
Hackett said he's loving parenthood third time around: "I feel better prepared, more relaxed. And it's been hard being a part-time dad to my older kids. Something doesn't feel right when you don't have your kids every night and every day."
His new calm he attributes largely to Sharlene, 35.
"This might sound a bit selfish but Sharlene keeps me calm. She's a great supporter," he said. "She's doesn't take me for granted. She just gets me and that's makes life easy. I don't have to try and be someone I'm not. Even in my swimming days, having had that to come home to would have just smoothed everything out, balanced everything because as a person I don't necessarily bring that to the table every day. She brings it to the table. She makes me feel more like myself."
The couple aren't entirely on their own raising baby Eddie during isolation.
Jagger, of whom Hackett shares joint custody of with his ex-wife, is presently living with the couple and new mum Sharlene is enjoying the privilege of homeschooling while navigating life as a new mum.
"Jagger is such a sweetheart," Sharlene said.
"We're pretty busy but Grant is up and makes us breakfast before he heads off to work at 7.30am, and then we've got school at 9. Between sleeps and feeds it can be pretty mentally draining, but I'm sure every parent relates to that."
The couple had hoped to hold a big wedding in September but will now have a party next year with a small ceremony taking place later this year to make their union official.
"We just really want to have the same last name," said Hackett. "COVID could go on forever and ever so we've got the forms - but we haven't set a date."
After being promoted to CEO of pooled development fund Generation Life in January, Hackett has been busy riding the turbulent stock market since March.
The job and professional rescue was instigated by Rob Coombe, the same former Westpac and BT banker who scouted Hackett to his first job in the finance sector at Westpac in 2008 following his retirement from swimming.
Having guided Hackett's career until Coombe left Westpac in 2011, coincidentally as Hackett's personal life started to publicly unravel for the first time, the elite banker who had overseen the merger of Westpac and St George still saw great potential in the then broken "but accountable" man who, Coombe once predicted, would one day be CEO of a Top 30 ASX company.
"I could always see the material in Grant," Coombe said on Friday. "So three years ago I contacted him and we went away for three days, to my house at Gerroa. I wanted to talk to him about what had been happening with him. We went through everything and at the end I just thought there was a strong chance he'd gone off the rails for exogenous reasons but had reached that point where he was able to come back to track again.
Convinced that was the case, weeks later Coombe hired Hackett as general manager of distribution at Generation Development Group - a business that sells tax effective savings plans - where Coombe had taken a controlling interest and was determined to turn the ASX listed company around.
Within three years, Hackett made it to CEO. In January he became CEO of subsidiary company Generation Life, a big move, admits Coombe.
Coombe, who rates Hackett as an outstanding executive - "financially astute, a great communicator, a strong strategist, and highly motivated" - believes that the lessons of the past, the repeated falls from grace, have only served to teach Hackett greater resilience in business.
"When you've been the best in the world for over a decade, you don't get there if you're not very clear about what you're heading for.
"This is a great leadership attribute and Grant has it. He also has greater calmness. He's not edgy like he was before. He more at peace with the world and with these big hairy audacious business goals, are the equivalent now to gold medals, and we just have to lay them down for him stretch and reach."
Originally published as Why Grant Hackett's family feared he'd never reach 40