The father of British snowboarder Ellie Soutter is speaking out about her death for the first time, saying, “I have lost my best friend, my total buddy. She was my rock.”
Ellie — who was tipped to compete for Team GB in the 2022 Winter Olympics — died on her 18th birthday in the forests of Les Gets in the French Alps on July 25.
Her father, Tony Soutter, 50, told the BBC that the intense pressures of elite sport collided with his daughter’s pre-existing mental health issues may have contributed to her ending her life. Authorities have yet to announce an official cause of Soutter’s death.
“She wanted to be the best,” Tony told the BBC on Tuesday. “She didn’t want to let anybody down.
“Unfortunately, it all came about from missing a flight which then meant she didn’t go training with the GB squad.
“She felt she’d let them down, felt she’d let me down and just tragically it just takes one silly little thing like that to tip someone over the edge, because there’s a lot of pressure on children.”
Ellie’s funeral is scheduled to take place in Les Gets on Thursday and will be followed by a private cremation for close friends and family. In an emotional commemoration, her snowboarding friends within the tight-knit Alpine community have already memorialized the Olympic hopeful by lighting 120 lanterns high in the mountains around the ski resort.
“Speaking one day to such a mature and wonderful person and not being able to speak to her the next… is what hurts the most,” close pal Ryan Pelluchon, 22, tells PEOPLE.
In response to their daughter’s sudden death — which took all her loved ones by surprise — Ellie’s mother, Lorraine Denman, 50 and her father, Tony, have helped set up a Go Fund Me page to “continue fundraising under Ellie’s name for young winter athletes that need financial assistance to achieve their potential and dreams, in much the same way as Ellie had looked for your help.”
Tony is also calling for greater awareness of mental health problems among young athletes, to prevent similar tragedies from occurring in the future.
“Mental health awareness needs to be really looked at and made more public,” he added to the BBC.
In response, a spokesman for UK Sport told the BBC: “This is a desperately sad situation and our thoughts are with all of Ellie’s family and friends.
“We are working with all of our Olympic and Paralympic programs and the mental health charity Mind to make sure appropriate support is in place.”
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).