I was shaken to the core as I read the horrific, yet all too familiar, story on Madison Holleran which has resurfaced all over social media. As a former college women’s soccer athlete at Michigan State University, I knew Madison’s pain all too well. The recent overwhelming number of posts, tweets, and links directing to the story legitimize the urgency I feel to raise awareness about mental health. ESPN published an article, Split Image, on a 19-year-old beautiful, Ivy League track star, who died after jumping from a parking structure to commit suicide. I can personally attest to the similar feelings of anxiety and depression in a quest for excellence in both college academics and athletics. I can relate to the pain and anguish Madison felt, and it is my ambition to prevent this from happening to the next student-athlete who experiences these paralyzing thoughts and feelings.
Similarly to Madison, my struggles with depression and anxiety began as a freshman in college. As a women’s soccer player at Michigan State University, on a full-ride scholarship, I was instantly placed in a very elite, privileged group of individuals. We were noticeably recognized on campus by our attractive Adidas athletic gear. We were reputable in being given preferential treatment by having a separate state-of-the-art academic center with numerous services, expedited lines at the student bookstore, and excused absences from class for competition. As it all appeared to be glamorous on the outside, the stressors and pressures that I felt as a result of this high profile position led me to develop severe psychological issues.
Academically, I challenged myself to excel in every course, and strived for perfection, where anything less than a 4.0 was unacceptable. In soccer, I felt obliged to produce and contribute on the field, where my number of goals and assists correlated to success. In both the classroom and on the soccer field, I felt my performance could always be better. That I constantly needed to study longer and practice harder. The pressure I placed on myself became so overwhelming that my anxiety became physically apparent through weight loss, like Madison.
Where my initial actions revolved around maximizing my performance, my newly distorted and refocused behaviors were related to my weight and food restriction. My eating disorder that advanced quickly and strongly made me feel alone and isolated. I sensed I was a major disappointment to my family, coaches, friends, and those around me; the same feelings that Madison experienced. Distress, disappointment, and failure were a bad combination of powerful feelings that led to my decline. I was lucky to have been immediately treated, and blessed to have survived. Unfortunately, Madison did not.
In honor of Madison Holleran and all the other sufferers whose pain has gone unrecognized, undiagnosed, and untreated, I will work tirelessly to educate and advocate for mental health awareness in women’s college sports. I hope my story, along with Madison’s, can be used to save the next person and family from such trauma.
My heart goes out to the entire Holleran family I would have the honor to one day meet; whom are grieving the most precious gift of life: their daughter, granddaughter, sister, aunt, and, ultimately, best friend.