From bullying victim to Olympics dream, Connor Bell finds ‘silver lining’ to his story

Olympics-bound Kiwi athlete Connor Bell is still dealing with the stigma of bullying many years on. Picture: STUFF SPORTS

The bullies left their marks on Connor Bell, even if they’re not visible to the naked eye. The scars are deep and painful and even now, more than seven years on, they form a major part of the story of this courageous young Kiwi Olympic athlete.

Bell, at 19, has been chosen to compete in the discus at the Tokyo Olympics. The Aucklander, who lives with his family in Waitoki, 43km northwest of the city, will achieve a special distinction when he lines up in the qualifying rounds on July 30 – he will be the youngest ever athlete to have competed in the discipline at the Games.

That gives you an idea how quickly and efficiently this fellow has developed into a world-class hurler of the disc. Australian Matt Denny was 20 and 2 months at Rio in 2016. American legend Al Oerter was 20 and 3 months at the 1956 Melbourne Games.

Bell will be 20 and 1 month, with his birthday on June 21.

But that’s just a small part of his story. He is happy to speak out on the harassment that formed such a harrowing backdrop to his entry into track and field as a youngster because he believes it’s a message that needs to be heard. The bullies just can’t win.

You see, Bell not only embraces the challenges he faced back in his pre-teen formative years, but also acknowledges they remain something he deals with to this very day. You don’t just turn the page on being bullied and move on to the next chapter unsullied. Those scars run deep.

“I’m a country kid, and I went to a really small country primary school of 65 kids to an intermediate school that had about 1000 kids,” Bell tells Stuff in a revealing conversation shortly after his Olympic selection.

“I was socially a little awkward. I love playing video games – World of Warcraft, that sort of stuff. But that wasn’t normal and largely accepted by a lot of people, and I got a pretty hard time for it, and I felt pretty crap.

“I was round 11 or 12. Lots of kids go through it, and it’s a real shame because for many it defines who they are growing up … and that’s just really sad.

“But at the end of my time at that school I found discus, and that was a huge turning point. It was the silver lining to my story.”

It’s somewhat incongruous to think of this towering, hefty young man being bullied. But that abuse takes many forms and for Bell it is something he continues to deal with to this very day.

 

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