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International Athlete Spotlight

International Athlete Spotlight

Fijian Basketball Player Joshua Fox on the Importance of Giving Back

Fiji native Joshua Fox played college basketball at UC Davis before playing professionally across both Europe and Australia. Joshua has also been given the opportunity to represent his home country of Fiji in international competitions. Currently, Joshua is transitioning from being a professional athlete, to a retired athlete and is focusing his work on creating a positive impact in his native county of Fiji.

What was the first moment you realized the importance of using your platform to give back?

There were two occasions that truly stuck out to me. The first was seeing my mom pack and send things back to Fiji despite us not having much. The second was kids and adults messaging me from Fiji. I never realized the impact and reach I had on people back home. It became clear that I have more influence than I could have imagined.

How do you balance being a professional athlete and participating in service?

The balance is similar to when you have your practices and workouts. You organize your schedule to make time to give back to your community.

Giving back not only allows you to chase your passion for helping others, but it gives you a needed escape to get away from thinking only about yourself. 

Joshua Fox

What has inspired you when giving back to your community?

I was inspired by all the people who helped my family and I when we first arrived in the United States. This helped us get our footing and once we did, my mom started sending supplies and money back to the communities in Fiji.  

I am blessed to have what I have and I am lucky enough to give back to Fiji.

Joshua Cook

What is your advice to other athletes across all levels of sports who are looking to get more involved in community service and giving back?

Just start. Like everything else you have in life once you start, you gain experience, knowledge, and momentum. Do not worry about how big or small the impact is. Any impact that helps someone is incredibly positive. Enjoy it and make friends with other volunteers and people within the communities you are helping.

What does the future of your charitable involvement/advocacy look like? What are your long-term goals?

My long-term goal is to create a nonprofit focused on giving back to Fiji. I want to help change and push the country forward by being able to give back on a bigger more impactful scale. At the moment I have been focused on clothes, school & work supplies, non-perishables, and shoes.

Do not worry about how big or small the impact is. Any impact that helps someone is incredibly positive

Joshua Fox

Mental Health Athlete Spotlight

Success and Mental Health

By Cat Salladin

Cat is a former U.S. National Team member for Open Water swimming as well as a member of the 2017 World Championship team where she competed in the 25-kilometer event. Currently, she is a swimmer for Rutgers University as well as a Whole Being Athlete Ambassador and a head Campus Captain for The Hidden Opponent. After earning her bachelors degree in Social Work at Rutgers, Cat is now working to earn her MSW degree.

There is no doubt that failure, injury, illness and other widely-recognized negative experiences that plague many athletes often have drastic consequences on the mental well-being of those they affect. Although these unfortunate events can greatly impact an athlete’s mental health and identity, these trials are relatively societally recognized and expected to cause an athlete pain. The idea that success in one’s sport can negatively affect one’s mental health, identity, and love for the sport they compete in is not as commonly discussed. 

  

In my personal experience, the sudden high levels of success I reached as a swimmer played a large role in my battle with mental illness, burnout, and identity as an athlete.

Cat Salladin

When I first made the National Team in 2017, I couldn’t have anticipated the pain that I would experience as a result of the new heights I had reached. Going into the qualifying meet, I hadn’t expected to qualify for World Championships; in fact, it wasn’t even on my radar or in my mind as any sort of goal. I was at the qualifying meet simply because I enjoyed swimming and was excited to be at my first Open Water National Championships. 

When I learned that I had qualified for World Championships in the 25k Open Water event, my very first thought was “I have to make it next year, too.” My immediate reaction wasn’t joy, elation, excitement, or pride – it was dread, pressure, and the sickening need to continually live up to my own accomplishments for the rest of my career.  

The minute I signed my name on the opt-in sheet for Worlds, I knew that the rest of my swimming career would never be the same.

Cat Salladin

The amount of stress, pressure, and anxiety I felt that summer was crushing. I felt like I didn’t belong on the National Team; I felt inexperienced and young and afraid. On my first trip, I broke out in stress hives all over my body because I was so nervous and was putting so much pressure on myself.  

After Worlds when I began to experience the effects of overtraining syndrome and a mysterious shoulder injury that went almost two years disregarded by coaches and myself alike, my success loomed over me like a dark cloud. The oppressive weight threatened to strangle me every time I stepped foot on a pool deck, and, often, it succeeded. My hyperfixation on figuring out how to make the National Team again and live up to the version of myself I’d created in 2017 was constantly at the forefront of my mind.  My identity as an athlete and as a person became wrapped up in my ability, or lack thereof, to swim fast.

  

Because of this identity issue that began as a direct result of the success I was handed, I was unable to cope when setback after setback threatened to derail my career entirely. 

Cat Salladin

One would think that facing a severe shoulder injury and eventual surgery, emotionally abusive coaches, overtraining syndrome, an MS scare, transferring schools, a global pandemic, contracting COVID three separate times, and battling Long COVID for over a year would be more likely to top the list of events that have plagued my swimming career the most in the past five years since my stint on the National Team.  However, I firmly believe that this is not the case.  

Yes, these extremely painful experiences that resulted in many emotional and mental consequeses played large roles in my struggle with swimming.  However, at the root of all of these trials is one thing: success. The pressure I placed on myself and the expectations put on me by others as a direct result of my success are the things that have derailed my career the most. My mental health suffered greatly under the weight of my own accomplishments. And, for the past five years, I have eaten, slept, and breathed one goal: to make the National Team again and to prove that I can do it.  

The problem is, I know what success really looks like; I know what success did to me

Cat Salladin

As the years have gone by, and I’ve worked to untangle the pain and trauma of my experiences in the sport of swimming over the past five years since World Championships, I’ve realized that there’s a large portion of me that only wants to remake the team because I feel like I should want to remake the team. 

I’ve heard very little discussion about the mental health consequeses of success and the lack of want of success as a athlete.  After all, athletes are always supposed to be striving for the next big goal; they’re supposed to want to be the best. But, when you realize that success can be more painful than failure and can have a larger negative impact on your love for the sport and your mental health in general, it seems much less appealing. 

Yes, it is extremely painful that I have not lived up to the version of myself that I was as a 17-year-old. It’s heartbreaking that I’ve spent the past five years of my career in the sport that I’ve loved since the minute I touched the water scrambling to accomplish anything that could make me seem like I’m not a failure.  

Success has haunted me to the point of disdain for the sport I used to enjoy just for the sake of swimming. 

Cat Salladin

Now as I’ve realized this and that success can be so much more painful than it’s worth, I’ve begun the long process of healing my relationship with the sport and working to enjoy the simple act of swimming.  

As my career is likely coming to an end after this season (unless something changes), my definition of success in the sport has changed. I’m working to hold onto the idea that success to me is no longer remaking the National Team or going best times again; instead, my definition of success is reclaiming my love for the sport and finding my identity as a person and not just as an athlete. My success robbed me of joy in the sport for so many years, and, while the process is grueling and painful, I know that I have to work on my identity and idea of success in order to end my career happy and enjoy the sport. If I’m able to do that, I know that at the end of my career, although I may still be sad that I never made another team, I can rest in the fact that I did end my career successfully.  

Olympic Athlete Spotlight

Olympian Emily Cook on the Importance of Giving Back

Emily Cook is a nine-time World Cup medalist, earning three gold, one silver, and five bronze and qualified for four Winter Olympics. She created “Visa Champions Creating Champions”, a mentoring program during which Olympians from a variety of winter sports worked with youngsters in the community and was a mentor with Classroom Champions for many years. 

What inspired you to give back to your community and use your platform for good?

I was raised by my father and he led by example when I was growing up. No matter how busy he was, he always found a way to contribute to and to engage in our community. To this day, my dad spends multiple days per week at the National Ability Center in Park City working with children and adults in their equestrian program, which provides Adaptive Horseback Riding (you can see his photo with one of the participants here) and Equine Assisted Learning (EAL). 

What are some of the activities you’ve participated in (or led) within your community in terms of service?

While I’m currently working as an executive at Eminent Series Group, I most recently spent the bulk of my days working with Classroom Champions (CC) as their Athlete Mentor Manager. CC works with schools to provide inspiring Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) curriculum and mentorship programs to improve engagement, build growth mindsets, and inspire positive classroom culture. I loved getting the chance to work with our athlete mentors everyday to support each of them in getting the chance to consistently make a difference for children.   

I loved for Classroom Champions and every athlete who has come through as a mentor has made a lasting impression on me. It is such an incredible thing to see the impact that each mentor has on the students and teachers that they work with. 

Emily Cook

What was the first moment that you realized the importance of using your platform to give back?

In 2002, when I was injured prior to the Salt Lake City Olympic Games, I began to recognize that I wanted to expand my impact beyond athletics. Throughout the three years that I spent working to get back to my sport, I had the chance to connect with my community in a very rewarding way. I worked with the athletes I knew from the 2002 games and my sponsor Visa to connect them locally with young athletes in the community and what I saw from that made me simply want to do more. So, I got involved everywhere I could to help kids learn the lessons I had learned growing up in sport. It was around that time that I connected with Athletes for Hope, Right to Play, the Women’s Sports Foundation and Kids Play International and once Classroom Champions was created, I joined there as a mentor. I know that during that time I got as much out of participating with these organizations as the children we were working with. 

One of my biggest goals is to get more and more athletes connected with students through [organizations like] Classroom Champions because I know first hand the difference it makes everyday both for the athlete and for the students and teachers they get to work with. To be honest, it makes a pretty big difference for me everyday as well. 

Emily Cook

How did you balance being an Olympic athlete and participating in service? 

While I was an athlete, I found that having service focused projects in addition to training and competing helped me to keep things in perspective and enhanced my time on the aerial hill. Having a platform as an athlete and using that for good helped me to feel like what I was doing everyday made a difference. I would say that participating in Classroom Champions as an athlete and working with Athletes for Hope while I was not on the hill made me a more successful athlete overall and I am thankful for the opportunity to provide that space for other athletes today through my job. 

What is your advice to other athletes across all levels of sports who are looking to get more involved in community service and advocacy?

My advice for athletes looking to get more involved is to connect with the athletes who you know are out there making a difference in the communities that you are passionate about. Ask them questions about what they love about the organizations they work with or how they have taken the initiative to start their own ways of contributing. There are so many ways to make an impact and to me that is your sport legacy. 

I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to learn valuable life lessons through participating in sport for so long and I love getting the chance to pass on those lessons.  

Emily Cook

I will always be involved in giving back in the sports world, it is so deeply ingrained in who I am.

Mental Health Athlete Spotlight

Finding A Sense of Self Before Life After Hockey Begins

By Terra Lanteigne

Terra is a professional ice hockey player with the Boston region of the PWHPA as well as a Whole Being Athlete Ambassador. She attended the Rochester Institute of Technology where she pursued her degree while serving as goaltender and assistant captain for the school’s Division I hockey program. She is also a Mechanical Engineer.

My name is Terra Lanteigne, and I am a professional hockey player.

A year ago, I stepped away from sport for the first time and found myself in a battle with anxiety, depression and an identity crisis. Even though I have since returned to athletics, my experiences have taught me how to cope with my eventual (permanent) retirement, whenever that may be, and to be confident in my transition to life after sport. This is my story.

Terra in her hockey gear on the ice, looking around a hockey goal

I finally had the free time I had dreamed about but instead of filling it with friends, excitement, and adventures, it brought on a constant sense of anxiety.

Terra Lanteigne

Photo credit: Heather Pollock

Hockey has always been a major part of my life and my sense of self. I never missed a season since I started playing at 8 years old, and many of those years I played through both the winter and summer. I wanted to be the best, and I loved the thrill of chasing that next level of achievement. I always saw my path with hockey.

But by my 4th year of college, I was burnt out. Physically, from playing/training 6 days a week and fighting through injuries I knew needed attention, but also mentally. Behind the smiles, the captaincy, the stats and the awards, I was drained. I didn’t want to quit, but the losing seasons, grueling schedule, schoolwork, and lack of a break took its toll. With my NCAA eligibility coming to an end, but with several post-college playing options available, I made the decision to take my first year without organized hockey in 14 years.

My final season came and went, and for the first few weeks I was relieved. I got to spend more time with my friends than ever before, started planning trips, and taking some well-deserved rest. And then the pandemic hit.

Spring sports had their season canceled, campus closed for the semester, and my plans evaporated. Suddenly I had nothing in my schedule, and no discernible goals to work towards. I finally had the free time I had dreamed about but instead of filling it with friends, excitement, and adventures, it brought on a constant sense of anxiety.

A defender is in front of Terra, who is in goal during an ice hockey game

I told myself others had it worse than me, and I suffered in silence until I eventually opened up and decided to recognize the importance of my mental health.

Terra Lanteigne

Photo credit: Heather Pollock

I didn’t have a job lined up, and I was graduating soon. What was I doing wrong? Was it because I lacked something to set me apart? Really, what was unique about me other than the fact I played hockey? Who was I if not an athlete? Stress filled the gaps in my day that used to be dedicated to training, travel, competition, and physical recovery. I had hobbies, I was aware that life did not need to end with my playing career, but I couldn’t find anything that felt worthwhile or motivating. I grew frustrated with myself for not appreciating the time off, sad thinking about how lost I felt, and eventually sunk into a numbness that made getting out of bed difficult. I was depressed.

Some part of me knew I should talk to someone, but I convinced myself my internal battle wasn’t worthy of discussion or therapy. Between the athletes who lost their seasons, the students who were missing graduation, and everyone else on the planet who was struggling for various reasons, I didn’t think I deserved the right to complain or demand help for my problem. I told myself others had it worse than me, and I suffered in silence until I eventually opened up and decided to recognize the importance of my mental health.

I was never sure if my hockey career would continue past college, although that was always my goal, and the ease of my decision to step away from sport was proof that the way I was functioning, internalizing everything and putting my head second behind my body, was unsustainable and damaging. I see that now. I still have to check myself often and remind myself to take a breath, but maintaining a consistent dialogue with my support network has made me stronger than ever.

Terra wearing her hockey gear as she walks off the ice with the area behind her

I returned to hockey, accomplished my goal of becoming a professional hockey player, and intend to continue playing as long as I can, or until it stops making me happy.

Terra Lanteigne

Photo credit: Jess Rapfogel

Taking time away had the added benefit of rekindling my excitement and love for the game, and just like coming back from a physical injury I had a refreshed drive to compete. I returned to hockey, accomplished my goal of becoming a professional hockey player, and intend to continue playing as long as I can, or until it stops making me happy. I don’t have a golden answer or some secret to a flawlessly smooth transition out of competitive sport. What I do know, and what I hope anyone who reads this can walk away with, is that we are all part of a network of athletes, both retired and active who have been there. It is tough, but you’re not alone. As athletes, there is a whole community of people who we can talk to and lean on for support when our careers as players end for good.