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For as long as I can remember, I’ve identified as an athlete. By “athlete," I mean an individual who has trained for and played a specific sport. From the first day I could kick a ball, the sport that spoke to me most was soccer–something I would go on to devote well over ten years of my life to. My identity became all consumed by my sport (which I was more than okay with through the years), as all of my time and energy was devoted to soccer, practicing technique outside of scheduled practices, giving it my all at practice day after day, and striving to be the best. I wanted nothing more than to play at the highest level possible, dare I say, beyond college.

While devotion and commitment are often praised in our society ( oftentimes for good reason), they can yield perfectionist tendencies and feelings of “not being enough.” What happens when you don’t reach the success you trained for throughout your career? What happens when you encounter competition unlike anything you’ve ever had before that makes you question yourself as an athlete? What happens when changes outside of your sport impact your ability to show up in your sport? My story is one that includes, to some extent, all of the above questions. It’s one about a girl who gave everything to her sport and didn’t end up where she wanted to be. It’s one about a girl who fought a silent battle in her mind to first hold onto the identity she had known for so long and then to create a new one from the ground up.

Growing up in rural Vermont, options were limited for higher-level athletics. This isn’t to say that there weren’t talented athletes all around the state, but it felt like it was harder to stay at the top competitive level, given the access, coaching, and facilities I knew many other players in larger parts of New England had. I’m one of the lucky ones, though, who had parents willing to do everything in their power to support their daughter’s dreams. This led to connecting with coaches and making my way onto club teams that were at least an hour away, which then entailed hours of driving to practices and games: my weekends were fully consumed by soccer. I was also given the opportunity to attend an incredible private school, where I was not only able to receive a fantastic education, but play soccer under a coach I admired who I knew not only believed in me, but would help me push myself to that next level–collegiate.

Throughout my high school career, I certainly dealt with the ups and downs of feeling like I was dominating my sport one minute to then feeling like I still wasn’t good enough the next. Yet at the end of the day, I truly did feel like I was going to “make it.” But when I got to college, the athlete and the girl I once knew started to disappear. I went from being on top and having a coach that fully supported me, to being invisible. As much as I wanted the opportunity to prove myself and my value to my new team, it felt as though, from day one of preseason, I I was never going to get my shot. And while of course, I wouldn’t have made the team to begin with if I wasn’t “good,” every single girl on that field was “good.” Though, some were given the opportunities to showcase their talents, (and also make mistakes) others were not. 

As an athlete, it’s extremely difficult to show up physically if you’re not there mentally. For me, feeling every second was absolutely precious and any wrong touch could keep me on the bench. I was constantly nervous, anxious, and tense. That made it all too easy to make mistakes during practice. Without any support, it felt like one single mistake would snowball into many – which was not something I was used to. I was used to having mental fortitude; I was used to having a strong inner voice that told me I was capable. It was a lack of empathy, understanding or acceptance from a coach, an unwillingness to be given a fair chance and game after game spent riding the bench that made that inner strong inner voice slowly start to disappear. After an entire season of feeling invisible and unworthy, the player I once knew had vanished.

During that first season of college soccer, I struggled mentally in ways I hadn’t before. I developed unhealthy habits as coping mechanisms and at my lowest, I questioned what things would be like if I simply didn’t exist. My entire life, even with the natural ups and downs that happen for athletes, my sport had always been my safe haven, my happy place. It was my escape from reality and my time to fully be in my prime. When I felt like it was taken away from me, I completely lost my identity. I struggled to find joy in any facet of my life, while also feeling like I should be able to snap myself out of it, to work through it, and, frankly, to get over it and move forward. I was an athlete after all – we’re taught to push hard, to keep going, to always show up. The idea of asking for help made me feel like I was a failure – weak and vulnerable, and unfortunately, I didn’t ask. I kept my head down and continued to put one foot in front of the other.

Looking back now, I recognize the strength I did have. The strength I had to keep going. The strength to pivot when the dream I’d had forever didn’t work out and to eventually, find my love of soccer again after transferring and playing at the Club level. Had I been presented with the resources and tools to support my mind, my mental health journey may have felt less lonely and less hopeless. I may have avoided trudging through my own dark thoughts, feeling as if I would never make it out. I may have been able to overcome what I was struggling with and find success on the pitch like I had always dreamed of. 

As I find myself well beyond the other side of that dark journey, I think of all of my fellow college athletes who have found themselves in a similar struggle. My heart breaks for those who felt that the weight, the darkness, and the heartache was too much to endure and I have so much empathy for those who could no longer sustain the struggle and saw taking their own lives as the only way to end the pain. 

And it makes me wonder why there isn’t more being done for these athletes. Why getting an ankle wrapped, access to physical therapy tools like an ice bath or sauna, or having access to an athletic trainer are readily available, but that same access isn’t available for something like a mental health expert or a sports psychiatrist. Why aren’t there seminars and workshops for athletes around mental health with the message that taking care of their minds is equally as important as taking care of their bodies? Why isn’t mental health openly discussed as a vital component of self-care? Why aren’t there ample, well-known resources for student-athletes when it comes to tools to take care of their mental health? While I know that things have shifted since my time in college and there very much are mental health resources available, I certainly think there needs to be a much stronger push to make said resources more well-known–to ensure there is much more conversation around them. Truth be told, I had no idea where to turn for help when I was in college. We didn’t have team meetings or workshops around mental health and it didn’t necessarily feel like a safe space to talk about feelings and emotions.  I’m sure if I had asked, there were resources, but that can be the scary, vulnerable part that becomes the barrier to seeking help – the ask. Why not make those resources readily known and available?

As I’ve been sitting with these questions, more devastating stories surrounding collegiate athletes and mental health flood my news feed. And while it's easy to feel helpless, there’s always something that can be done if you look hard enough.

Enter the 5K Challenge for Mental Health. 

What is the 5K Challenge for Mental Health?

The pursuit of a 5K everyday in the month of June to raise awareness and funds for The Hidden Opponent in support of collegiate student-athlete mental health. Who is The Hidden Opponent? A non-profit changing the stigma and creating conversation around mental health for all, but specifically within the world of collegiate sports. They’re focused on amplifying voices of student-athlete mental health experiences, bringing awareness to mental health struggles, providing resources, and creating a safe space.

In partnership with Rhone, I will be tackling a 5K run everyday in June to directly raise funds for The Hidden Opponent. But you know what they say–we are stronger and can go further together.

What does that mean? You, yes you, can get involved. Commit to partaking in one or more 5Ks during the month of June. That could look like running, walking, rowing, biking–whatever you choose. Join our 5K Challenge for Mental Health Strava Run Club to be entered into an end-of-month giveaway and to track your 5Ks. And if you’re so inclined, consider donating to The Hidden Opponent–together we can change the game and break the stigma surrounding mental health and athletes. 

Join the 5K Challenge for Mental Health!

When: June 1-30, 2022

Where: Anywhere! 

Why: We’re raising funds to go to the non-profit organization, The Hidden Opponent, to help bring awareness and resources to collegiate student-athletes mental health.

Details: Join our Strava Run Club, track one or more 5Ks in June and if you’re able, donate an amount of your choosing to The Hidden Opponent. We’ll be posting a leader board on @rhone’s Instagram weekly to showcase your efforts and tagging fellow participants throughout our various runs in June on social. 

Giveaway: Enter for a chance to win a wellness bundle to encourage you to take care of both your mental and physical well being.

Giveaway includes:

  • Core premium device and 1-year subscription from Hyperice

  • $100 gift card to Hoka

  • A wellness bundle from Organifi

  • $500 gift card to Rhone

  • $100 gift card to Alala

  • Additional wellness bundle from Beam

  • Value Bundle from LMNT

Here’s how to enter:

  1. Join the 5K Challenge for Mental Health Strava Run Club to track one or more 5Ks this June.

  2. Like the 5K Challenge for Mental Health post on @rhone's Instagram and follow the instructions for entry within the post details.

Giveaway ends June 30th at 11:59 PM PST. 1 giveaway will be announced and contacted via DM on July 1st. Open to US residents only. This giveaway is not affiliated with Instagram.

Join the tag train! When you go out for your 5K (or multiple!), tag five people who you think should join in on the challenge. The goal is to have them join and tag five more people during their 5K. 

Together, let’s stride for change. 

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