Life’s not perfect.
This is a lesson I learned the hard way.
Before my sophomore year of college at Virginia Tech, I always put a ton of pressure on myself to excel in everything I did. Whether it was in the classroom — and especially on the lacrosse field — I wanted to be the best.
While it’s good to set goals and challenge yourself, it should never come at the expense of your mental health.
During my sophomore year, for the first time in my life, I had no choice but to slow down and examine what I truly wanted out of my life.
I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and needless to say, it turned my world upside down.
Ever since then, as I dealt with my own mental health struggles due to the diagnosis, I’ve been a huge advocate for student-athletes putting their mental health at the forefront.
This summer, I’ve been able to continue my passion for mental health by working with the counseling and athletic mental performance team at VT.
As student-athletes, because of our abilities and the fierce competition that we face, we’re too often looked down upon for showing any kind of weakness. But being open and transparent about your mental health is not a weakness.
It’s a strength.
It’s unfortunate that it took going through cancer for me to open my eyes to this realization, but I remain grateful to be in the position I’m in to help student-athletes share their stories and know the truth about what truly matters in life.
Combining my passion
I’m a Sports Media & Analytics major, which is another area I’m passionate about. Throughout my studies, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed learning about the marketing and graphic design aspects that come with sports media.
That’s why when the opportunity came up to work with the sports psychology department at VT, it was a no-brainer because it combined all of my passions together.
So far this summer, I’ve worked quite a bit with the department’s social media in creating graphics and promoting mental health awareness.
Another significant role in my internship is looking at the calendar and planning events this fall. I’ve been helping to prepare for Student-Athlete Mental Health Week this upcoming October, and it’s been exciting getting in contact with prominent individuals to come to our campus and talk to our student-athletes.
To know I’m playing a role in making an impact for my VT family in spreading the message about the importance of mental health means more than I’ll ever be able to adequately describe.
There for each other
Another area I’ve enjoyed in my internship is helping to establish that peer-to-peer connection.
All student-athletes at VT have free access to the Calm app, which helps to reduce anxiety, depression, and provides various strategies to help you meditate and improve your sleep.
Recently, I was in charge of sending out a survey to student-athletes, asking them questions about if they use the app, when they use it, how beneficial it is to them, etc.
I look forward to going through those responses and working with the student-athletes to make the most of this powerful resource.
Additionally, I’m working with one of the sports psychologists to create drop-in groups this fall for injured athletes, athletes experiencing grief/loss, and athletes dealing with body image.
With these groups, the main focus is how athletes can support other athletes and be there for each other. No matter how alone you might feel in the problems you’re facing, there are others going through the same level of challenges and adversity.
I’m confident all the work I’ve put in this summer with the sports psychology department is going to create such a healthy and supportive environment on campus, which is why this internship has been so gratifying to be a part of.
Make your mess your message
When I was going through pancreatic cancer, and I was at my lowest, I remember being in a state of confusion.
Why did I have to deal with cancer at such a young age? What did I ever do to deserve this?
Those questions took a toll on my mental health, especially since I had no answers for them.
Throughout this time, my mom showed me a quote from Robin Roberts that’s stuck with me ever since: “Make your mess your message.”
That hit home for me because I was in a messy situation, but I didn’t have to let that situation control me. I could make it into a message to inspire myself and other people.
I quickly discovered that real-life problems happen to people every single day. While I felt alone at times during my cancer diagnosis, there are people out there that have it far worse, and I learned a lot about myself and others throughout this journey.
After I made a full recovery, I’ve taken pride in being an outlet for people to talk to and not being afraid to ask them difficult questions.
I have no issue going up to any of my friends and teammates and asking them directly how their mental health is doing. I’ve learned that if you give people a platform to be transparent, vulnerable, and share their truth, it is going to improve their happiness and well-being.
While pancreatic cancer brought out the worst of me at times, I wouldn’t change any of it for the world because it’s truly been a life-changing experience.