Spike's Mental Agony

Sun Herald

Sunday August 30, 1998


FORMER Olympic boxer Grahame "Spike" Cheney is fighting a mental disease that has caused him to "withdraw from the real world" and has resulted in massive mood swings.

The 1988 Seoul Olympics silver medallist has been diagnosed as manic depressive, is on an invalid pension and hasn't been able to hold down a regular job in more than two years.

Cheney, 29, is on twice-daily medication and has spent time over the past year at Bloomfield Hospital, a psychiatric centre at Orange.

"The mood swings are the hardest part," said Cheney, who shares a house with his girlfriend, Mandy Sharp.

"I started renovating the kitchen at home the other day, then suddenly I picked up a hammer and just took to the walls.

"I did the same thing to the front of the house. I just don't understand what happens to me.

"I'm told I do it out of frustration about my problem and not being able to work. Mandy knows to get out of my way when I get into one of those moods.

"It has been bloody hard having to live like this, not being able to hold down a job and forced to live on $170 a week."

Carol Cheney says her son, the youngest of four children, has had some hard knocks, but this is by far the worst.

"I've had to take out a protective custody order for his own well-being," she said. "It's because of his massive mood swings. One minute he can be feeling his old self, the next he slumps into a deep depression.

"Doctors have told me he has a chemical imbalance in the brain and that there is no known cure. The drugs seem to work, but not all the time."

Mandy Sharp, 27, is seven months pregnant with their first child.

"Spike's mood swings can be very scary," she said. "I love him dearly and I won't ever give up on him but he now knows he must stick to his medication.

"He took a hammer and destroyed the kitchen the other night. He did the same thing to the front room after not taking his medication.

"He was in the process of renovating the room for when the baby arrives.

"When he's on a high, he just smashes things up; when he's on a low, he's almost suicidal."

Cheney hit the headlines in 1988 when he went within a left hook of becoming Australia's first Olympic boxing gold medallist, only to lose a narrow points decision to Russian Viatcheslav Janovski.

Mrs Cheney said daily dosages of lithium helped her son, but he had "withdrawn from the real world".

"It is definitely not due to his years in the ring," she said.

Cheney's illness led to a recent brush with the law. A Lithgow police spokesman said: "The kid turned up at the station late one night, undressed and totally disoriented.

"I got one of my blokes to put a blanket around him and drive him home."

Jeff Crowe, Cheney's boxing trainer of more than 10 years, had an inkling there was something wrong when Cheney wouldn't return calls the last time he was admitted to Bloomfield.

"It wasn't like Spike not to speak to me. Then I heard about his problems from his mum," he said.

Fight promoter Bill Mordey, who took Jeff Fenech and Jeff Harding to world titles, rated Cheney in the same class.

"He could have been another Australian world champion," Mordey said. "He was courageous and never took a backward step. But sadly the kid never fulfilled his potential when he turned professional."

© 1998 Sun Herald

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