Spofforth eyes journeys end
When Gemma Spofforth takes to the blocks at the Aquatics Centre on July 29, it will mark the beginning of the final chapter for her.
So extreme was her despair at times the Shoreham-based woman contemplated suicide, pulled back and forth by the voices in her head.
Swimming, in which she had excelled since a child, was something she considered quitting on occasions, especially following the World Championships in Shanghai last year where she went in as defending 100 metres backstroke champion but then failed to make it through the heats.
Spofforth returned to Florida, where she had moved to study in late 2006, and continued her voluntary counselling work at a crisis centre, both on the telephone and in person for those also in despair.
At Christmas, the 24-year-old was still unsure of whether she would attempt to qualify for the Great Britain team, such was the "insane pressure".
Even in the lead-up to the Olympic trials, Spofforth emotionally detached herself in an attempt at self-protection although a small flame had been lit by the sight of the five Olympic rings at St Pancras train station.
She said: "I definitely felt numb going into it.
"I took away all the emotions that I might need to help me swim fast. I took away all the emotions that might give me nerves before the race.
"So I was just numb because I didn't want to be in the position where if I didn't make it I would be in the depths of despair.
"I didn't want to be trying to pull myself out of a hole. I needed to know that I could numb myself."
Through a huge effort of will, Spofforth qualified for the 100m backstroke in London, where she will look to go one better than her fourth place four years ago in Beijing.
For Spofforth, the trials were akin to an epiphany.
"Coming off 2008 and everything that had happened to me it was almost like the end of an era, the final chapter.
"At the meet I was really nervous so it was really nice to finish that off.
"That's when it was real, before the meet it never felt that real."
If Spofforth is to win a medal in the July 30 final, it would conclude a sometimes tortuous voyage that started in Sussex in November 1987 when she was born into a close-knit family comprising parents Lesley and Mark and younger brother Peter.
Excelling as a swimmer, Spofforth won bronze in the 2004 European Short-Course Championships less than a month after turning 17.
Pancreatitis struck and in late 2006 she moved to the University of Florida to kick-start her career but the following year Spofforth was forced to confront something with which she was to become horribly familiar.
Her mother, with whom she had an incredibly close bond, was diagnosed with cancer and in December 2007 she passed away.
Spofforth contemplated suicide in the run-up to Beijing, where she finished in that agonising fourth, but 2009 appeared to be kinder, a world title in world record time in Rome prefaced by her blowing a kiss skywards before the race.
She was such a success on the phones at the crisis centre she became an associate counsellor, rushing to those threatening suicide and intervening.
2010 may have been a mixed bag with European success followed by a Commonwealth Games which she admittedly found difficult.
However, fate was to intervene again last year. In a shattering blow, her father's girlfriend, June, died of lung cancer. Months later June's daughter Vicky had also succumbed.
Amid the grief and shock, she was unsure whether to continue with swimming despite it being a constant in her life.
Neither did she really share her feelings.
"I am actually quite a hypocrite when it comes to that because I don't allow people to listen to me about that.
"There are a couple of people who work with me on the lines who are really good but as soon as I think they are trying to help I call them out on what they are doing."
Instead she would talk to fellow swimmers, including GB team-mate Lizzie Simmonds, but still at the end of the year she was uncertain about her future until she decided to give London a go.
Qualification followed and two days later Spofforth found out she had been accepted for a post-graduate course in psychology and counselling with the eventual aim of working either in school or mental health counselling, the former something she has experience of.
She said: "It was a pretty amazing week. I got into grad school and made the Olympic team. Everything just fell into place for me."
A gargantuan chocolate appetite, admittedly partly comfort eating, is off the menu until the Games after which she will publish her autobiography.
But for now, Spofforth has just one focus. "Right from the beginning of my career, London 2012, or even the 2012 Olympics before we won the bid, was my goal.
"The 2008 Olympics was just a bonus along the way.
"It felt like the goal of my entire career had been reached."