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Mental health advocate speaks with IC athletes, coaches and staff

By on September 15, 2021 0

The Ithaca College Student-Athlete Advisory Council (SAAC) gave each of the college’s athletic teams the opportunity to meet with former University of Southern California volleyball player Victoria Garrick on September 13 to discuss the importance of mental health.

Garrick met a group of around 400 people at a virtual event to share his personal struggles with mental health as a student-athlete, said Victoria Sestito, field hockey player and SAAC president. The audience included Bombers athletes, administrators, coaches and staff.

The former volleyball player shared her experiences through her social media platforms and public speaking in her a efforts to inspire athletes and raise awareness of this critical issue. Garrick also founded The Hidden Opponent, “an advocacy group that raises awareness about the mental health of student-athletes and tackles stigma within sports culture.” according to the organization’s site.

This work provided Garrick with a large audience on social networks, including more than 337,000 subscribers on Instagram, which she uses to spread her message. Sestito said this Garrick’s efforts were noticed by several Bombers athletes, which prompted her to help organize this event.

“I followed Victoria Garrick on Instagram and TikTok and listened to her podcast,” Sestito said. “[I] was just like ‘Wow, how cool would it be if we could get her to come and talk to our student-athletes’, and the idea came from there.

Sestito said this she first thought about Garrick speaking to college athletes last spring when the SAAC was planning their mental health awareness week. The elder said this she first pitched the idea to Erienne Roberts, deputy director of athletics and senior administrator. Roberts then proposed the event to Susan Bassett, Associate Vice President and Director of the Office of Intercollegiate Athletics.

Sestito said this she received a positive response from those who attended the event because Garrick’s many messages resonated with the group.

“It was a very good participation,” she said. “She really raised some great points and topics that a lot of student athletes can relate to. And I think it really showed up during the Q&A when everyone was saying, “This is such an amazing conversation”… Today my teammates told me they loved the event and were truly grateful that they were able to listen and hear from her.

Sestito also helped facilitate this process by contacting Garrick’s team to start organizing the event. She also said that Will Rothermel, associate director of athletics, and Kaitlyn Wahila, head hockey coach, were instrumental in this planning.

Senior Dania Bogdanovic, a member of the pairs and women’s crews and the main co-chair of the SAAC Bombers, said this she is especially grateful for the efforts that Roberts and Wahila put into organizing the event.

“I know they both know that mental health is really important not only for the students but also for the athletes of Ithaca,” said Bogdanovic. “So I really appreciate their commitment to help make this event happen and find the funding and the time. The organization and we are truly grateful to both of them for helping us make something like this happen.

Sestito said this the board organized the event because they believed Garrick’s messages would resonate with the group.

“I think his message is so important and so crucial, especially now,” Sestito said. “People can be ruthless on social media… its content is so pure, real and honest. I think you don’t really see that much, so when someone finally shares these posts, you gravitate to them.

Garrick recognized the impact these conversations can have, which prompted her to start sharing her experiences by giving a TED talk. Garrick said that since then she has tried using her platform to help other student-athletes deal with pressures from academics and athletics.

“I really wanted to share my story, in the hope that other athletes don’t feel as alone, confused or really ashamed as I am,” said Garrick. “So coincidentally this semester TEDx came to school and I applied and had to go through this long process and ended up getting picked, and the rest was really a whirlwind.”

Logan Ninos, wrestler and president of SAAC operations, said this he believes that hosting the event made athletes more aware of the support system they have around them in college.

“This event can help [Ithaca College] student-athletes just by realizing that it’s normal to have these issues, ”Ninos said. “Everyone goes through these things at one point or another. So for us I think it really helps us by giving us another resource to contact, [and] again, knowing that you are not alone.

Garrick said this she is touched by the fact that student-athletes turn to her for guidance when facing challenges in their college career.

“It’s more than special for me when student-athletes go out of their way to try to make it happen,” said Garrick. “I know how much they have to do with class and practice and their own lives. And then take the liberty of trying to organize this and go to school and say, “This is a conversation we want to have on our campus. I mean, it’s surreal and I don’t take it lightly and it’s one of my biggest honors.

Sestito said this she believes this event helped bring the student-athlete community together, engaging in these critical conversations.

“I think just hearing her messages and seeing her talk to us is just a step in the right direction,” Sestito said. “And [it] can foster so many more relationships and discussions about mental health, and I think this will be a great space for our student-athletes.



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