There is nothing better or more satiating than victory.
The unmistakeable traits that separate collegiate student-athletes from others is their fierce competitiveness, determination, and refusal to accept anything less than their best on the field, court, or track. Of course, in addition to these characteristics, it must also take a tremendous amount of dedication and commitment to a sport.
Starting at a young age, competitive sports demand intense training multiple times a week, with games or competitions heaped on top. In some cases, families commute long distances to provide the opportunity for their child to play at such high levels of a sport.
When it comes time and an athlete receives an athletic scholarship to play at a big-time university, it is all smiles, celebration, and triumph. And while that moment in time feels like being on top of the world, it would be remiss of me to not discuss the journey that gets each athlete to that point.
The minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, and years spent devoted to becoming a better, faster, and stronger athlete. The time spent in cars, on planes, and traveling to games and tournaments on weekends, while friends at school went to homecoming, attended parties, or enjoyed other social activities. But, we didn’t know any different. It was having an eye on the prize, and literally willing to do anything it took to achieve that feeling of triumph—to win.
The ability to balance academics and athletics became second nature. In fact, it was quite simple. Time became of the essence, and wasting it was not an option. As a high-level athlete, days were divided into three big chunks: time in class, time at training, and time completing homework. A childhood routine and schedule helped make the transition to college smoother and more predictable.
Collegiate student-athletes, for four straight years, experience all of the feels: the highest of highs, lowest of lows, and everything in between. No matter what one may be feeling though, there is a support system surrounding you at all times. Teammates hugging you, coaches encouraging you, strength coaches demanding a little more, academic advisors helping to avoid scheduling conflicts, tutors available at your disposal—all providing a sense of camaraderie, community, and, ultimately, a sense of self-worth.
Four years go by very quickly. Each year, a student-athlete inevitably plays a different role, and as each year passes, a student-athletes role becomes more critical to a team. Seniors become role models, leaders, and teammates who literally leave every single thing they have left inside them on the field, court, or track—physically and emotionally. It becomes the pinnacle of one’s career. The season is full of last times. Last time playing a season opener, last time playing your rivals, last time you’re with the people that you’ve grown with, last time going to class on a game day, last time you play at your home stadium, and last time playing for your university. It’s all something that for your first three years you might take for granted because you look around and think “I’m not even a senior yet, I’ve still got plenty of time here.” But it hits you fast.
No matter the outcome of a student-athlete’s final season, the hardest part was realizing that this was it—the glory, the highs, the lows, the wins, the losses, the friendships, the energy, the grit, the drive, the determination. All the things that helped you find your identity, your sense of self, and your self-worth are gone, and in many minds, a void in life that nothing else could possibly fill.
Sports are a great thing. They teach real life lessons, they create bonds that will last forever, and they give you incredible moments that you will never forget. But, damn, sports demand a physical and emotional investment where feelings and thoughts can be so overpowering and overwhelming.
I don’t know Katie Meyer, nor do I have any personal information related to her death. But, what I do know is that Katie was the epitome of a die-hard, fierce competitor who gave all of her being to her sport, team, and university. She reached the highest of highs. She won an NCAA National Championship at Stanford University as a team captain and played an integral role in that title. Katie showed real, authentic emotion after a save she made in the penalty shootout, showing pride, excitement, and fulfillment. She endured such remarkable criticism on social media for that passionate reaction, instead of being admired for her authenticity and enthusiasm. She persevered like a bad-ass strong female athlete.
As fierce competitors, we can appear so strong, but yet feel so fragile at the same time. We pour our hearts and souls into our sport, and when the time is up, and everything seems to vanish in an instant, we are left with devastating, lonely, and debilitating thoughts. Now what? What is next? Who am I without soccer? Will anything ever fill that void? Will I ever feel triumphant and victorious again? What do I do what all this free time? Where do I belong?
Whether or not this contributed to the self-inflicted death of Katie Meyer, I guarantee that Katie would have benefited from mental health support that should be a mandatory part of a student-athlete’s career. Katie Meyer has been described as having a “larger-than-life” personality—one who was organized, highly goal-oriented, driven, and competitive. While there are many benefits to having that type of personality, there are downsides we must be aware of, as well. They have a higher risk of depression and anxiety, stress, or potential relationship problems.
Trust me. I am one. I can relate to Katie Meyer on so many levels without even having known her. I, too, invested my entire self physically and emotionally to my sport and performance. Though my feelings of depression and anxiety manifested in a severe eating disorder as a collegiate student-athlete, I can empathize with the overwhelming thoughts and feelings that consume your mind, and control your life.
Collectively, knowing this, we must be mindful of and taught how to manage stress and practice self-care to protect our mental health.
It could have been any one of us. Unfortunately, it was Katie. We must learn from it, make changes, and protect and look out for each other. After all, we are on the same team.
My heart, thoughts, and prayers go out to Katie’s family and all her loved ones. In the soccer world, she will forever be a role model for all the young girls who aspire to be strong, successful, and “larger-than-life” student-athletes.