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AFH News

Athletes for Hope and Champs Sports Announce Partnership

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

WASHINGTON D.C.- In honor of World Mental Health Day on October 10, Athletes for Hope (AFH) is proud to announce its partnership with one of the largest, athletic sports-specialty retailers in North America Champs Sports.

As part of the partnership, Champs Sports has donated $30,000 to AFH to help shatter the stigma of mental health and empower all athletes. Champs Sports’ donation to AFH will go towards education, training and resource creation related to athletes’ mental health, as well as fund AFH’s “Pledge to Reach Out” campaign. The pledge states: It starts with showing up, and a willingness to listen. It doesn’t need to be perfect, or filled with advice. It starts with reaching out.

“We’re thrilled to partner with Champs Sports as they are committed to raising awareness of mental health issues that affect athletes across all sports,” said Jason Belinkie, CEO of Athletes for Hope. “At Athletes for Hope, our goal is to break down barriers and provide help to those in need, and we recognize the power of sharing one’s own experiences in order to inspire others. With the support of Champs Sports as well as star athletes, we hope the “Pledge to Reach Out” campaign encourages all athletes to show up, listen and reach out.”

In support of the pledge, Champs Sports, in partnership with Athletes for Hope, launched a World Mental Health Day campaign on 10/10. The campaign features Washington Commanders Offensive Lineman Chris Paul and Olympian and World Cup Alpine Ski Racer Alice Merryweather, both of whom have grappled with mental health issues within their careers and have fought to overcome them.

“As athletes, it’s so important to use our platform to welcome conversations about mental health, or share our own experiences with mental health so people know they are not alone,” said Chris Paul, Washington Commanders Offensive Lineman and Athletes for Hope Mental Health Ambassador. “Mental health care deserves more of a spotlight, and we should all aim to do more for our ourselves and our peers in order to challenge the stigma that surrounds mental health in sports.” 

In the campaign, Alice and Chris speak about what they do to stay mentally healthy and balanced, no matter what life throws at them, and encourage others to seek help if needed. They are also shown in photos that represent what these athletes do to help keep a healthy mind – spend time in nature, ride horses, collaborate with friends, attend educational conferences, and more. They’ve both signed the “Pledge to Reach Out” and encourage everyone to join them by visiting athletesforhope.org/reachout. 

To kick off the campaign, Champs Sports hosted a Mental Health Day event at Champs Sports Homefield in Pembroke Pines, FL on Sunday, October 9th for local high school and college athletes. The events consisted of yoga, mindfulness, and meditation sessions led by Athletes for Hope ambassadors Kendall Ellis and Rachel McNair

Champs Sports will dedicate the entire next month to mental health initiatives including a continued partnership with AFH to provide education and resources to athletes in need.  

For media inquiries, please contact: Kylie Reeves (kreeves@athletesforhope.org, 919-593-7975)

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About Athletes for Hope

Founded by Muhammad Ali, Andre Agassi, Mia Hamm and nine other elite athletes in 2006, Athletes for Hope (AFH) is a cause-neutral non-profit that educates, encourages, and empowers athletes to find their passions and use their time to positively engage with their communities. Over the past 16 years, AFH has educated more than 10,000 professional, Olympic, Paralympic and collegiate athletes through its Causeway workshop series, and helped athletes volunteer with hundreds of underserved schools and impactful community organizations through core programs that focus upon helping underserved children become more physically active, changing the public stigma around mental health, and brightening the lives of children in hospitals. Through their dedication and passion for doing good, AFH athletes have positively impacted the lives of millions around the world.

About Foot Locker, Inc.
Foot Locker, Inc. leads the celebration of sneaker and youth culture around the globe through a portfolio of brands including Foot Locker, Kids Foot Locker, Champs Sports, Eastbay, atmos, WSS, Footaction, and Sidestep. With approximately 2,800 retail stores in 28 countries across North America, Europe, Asia, Australia and New Zealand, as well as websites and mobile apps, the Company’s purpose is to inspire and empower youth culture around the world, by fueling a shared passion for self-expression and creating unrivaled experiences at the heart of the global sneaker community. Foot Locker, Inc. has its corporate headquarters in New York. For additional information please visit www.footlocker-inc.com.

AFH Spotlight

Community Hero Spotlight: Never Ride Alone

Highlighting the work of Richard Lima and his work in the mental health space.

By Rachel Chao, MSSW/MPH, MT-BC AFH Advocacy & Education Consultant

Richard Lima, an endurance athlete and long-distance cyclist, has always appreciated a challenge. But when he talks about biking across the country to raise awareness of mental health in America on his “Never Ride Alone” trip, he doesn’t mention the challenge of the record-breaking heat and drought. He doesn’t talk about the mosquitos that followed him on the road, or the sweltering humidity. He reflects about the stories, the conversation and the humans that he met while biking over 4500 miles. 

On June 4, 2022, Lima started biking in North Carolina on his “Never Ride Alone” journey. He brought with him a tent, food and supplies – and above all else, a desire to bring awareness to the prevalence of suicide and mental illness. After losing a loved one to suicide in early 2022, he felt moved to action. He began to learn more about mental health in America, and became increasingly motivated to start conversations around the stigma of mental illness.

I couldn’t sit and wait,” he said. “I’m gonna take the loss, and I’m gonna go out there, and let people know that they matter.

Richard Lima

His journey across the country following the Trans America Trail was supposed to raise awareness. What Richard didn’t expect was to bear witness to the environment of mental health in America. He explains how people at rest stops and camp sites would ask him where he was biking. Once he shared his reason for the cross-country trip, others would immediately open up.

They shared their own stories, and the stories of people they’ve lost: the woman in Missouri who shared her suicide attempt with him one evening, the couple in St. Louis who lost their son to suicide and expressed their gratitude for others speaking up about their own unbelievable losses, the man in Kansas who opened up about his own depression and suicidality.

He shares their stories with reverence and with gratitude that others are willing to talk about their own mental health with him. “Never Ride Alone” became more than the name of the trip, it became true for how he felt on his journey.

As others shared their stories with Lima, together they shared the disbelief of how common these stories are. “I had no idea just how prevalent suicide really is. It blew my mind. I knew the numbers of mental illness and suicide, but I just didn’t know how it was a part of so many folk’s stories.” Through his journey he was an eyewitness to the struggles that people faced in accessing and receiving adequate mental health support. He talked to folks in rural, isolated communities he biked through who shared how difficult it was for them to access support. He talked to men at restaurants and camp sites who shared how they felt a pressure to toughen up, to “be a man,” and deal with their mental illness privately.

The importance of this ride kicked in when I started hearing people’s stories. What I really took away from this is that mental illness is so prevalent, and most people don’t understand how common it really is.

Richard Lima

Donations for his ride benefitted several chapters of the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI). “What spoke to me about his story was his passion for wanting to see change, his passion for wanting to connect with others who are passionate about mental health,” said Heather Richardson, of NAMI St. Louis. “To connect with so many other people who have been touched by mental health… It opens the door for people who are scared or feel judged by social stigmas to seek support.” 

When we examine the current stats of mental illness in America (1 in 20 adults experience serious mental illness, and suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for teens and young adults), it can be easy to forget the stories of the people who are represented in them. It can be easy to generalize about mental illness, or depend upon stigma and stereotype to inform what we think we know about suicide.

But Lima’s ride sought to bring the stories back to the numbers- to destigmatize experiences of thousands of Americans. Most importantly, he rode to remind others that they can make a difference by starting conversations around mental health, too. 

Step by step, pedal by pedal, story by story. Whether by biking, opening up, or taking time to examine the stigmas that exist, Lima hopes that people become motivated to know that they can make a difference by starting a conversation about mental health in their own community.

“Looking back, it’s the people I remember,” he said, “Meeting such kind people, and hearing such sad stories of loss. It runs the gamut from beginning to end of the emotional, incredible moments of meeting people.”

Richard Lima, of Never Ride Alone, will continue his long-distance biking to raise awareness of the prevalence of mental illness and suicide in November, biking across the Route 66 trail. If you’re interested in continuing to follow his advocacy and awareness efforts, you can find more information on the Never Ride Alone website, or by connecting on Instagram (@NeverRideAloneUSA or @RichardLima1). 

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.  

AFH News

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Athletes for Hope and Southern University Team Up to Support Mental Health & Wellness

Update | August 29, 2022: You can find a recap of this event in BR Proud.

Baton Rouge, LA, August 16 – Athletes for Hope (AFH) is proud to support the Wellness Festival on the Bluff, presented by NAMI Louisiana, scheduled for Friday, August 19, 2022. The event will take place at the Southern University Event Center (8101 James J Prestage St, Baton Rouge, LA 70807) from 10am to 4pm in collaboration with Southern University Athletics, Student Government Association and the Department of Social Work.

As part of Southern University Athletics’ Fan Fest Weekend, the Wellness Festival will include presentations from mental health professionals and advocates. Highlights include a presentation from NAMI National CEO Daniel Gillison who will raise awareness about the mental health needs of college students and an AFH Whole Being Athlete panel moderated by Dr. Marlin Hollins, Southern University Assistant Athletic Director of Advancement, focusing on campus area mental health resources. Yoga, mindfulness moments and targeted vendors focusing on mental health community support will all round out this incredible day of learning.

“During a time where athlete mental health awareness and suicide prevention is needed more than ever, AFH sees a significant and important opportunity in Baton Rouge to support and strengthen the mental health and wellness resources surrounding Southern University,” said Suzanne Potts, LMSW, MPH, AFH University National Director and Mental Health Program Lead. “We are grateful for the campus community, Southern Athletic Department and NAMI Louisiana for their commitment to making this event a huge success and connecting Southern students with a day of reflection, resource sharing and fun.”

This event is funded in part by a grant from the Pennington Family Foundation which supports a larger initiative with Athletes for Hope University (AFH U), a program that educates and connects student-athletes from LSU and Southern University to service and volunteerism, as well as mental health and advocacy efforts via AFH’s Whole Being Athlete. AFH U launched in 2013 and now operates at 14 university campuses across the U.S., including 5 HBCUs while Whole Being Athlete launched in May of 2021.

For media inquiries, please contact: Kenya Warren-Hollins (kwarren@athletesforhope.org, 504-428-9737)

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About Athletes for Hope

Founded by Muhammad Ali, Andre Agassi, Mia Hamm and nine other elite athletes in 2006, Athletes for Hope (AFH) is a cause-neutral non-profit that educates, encourages, and empowers athletes to find their passions and use their time to positively engage with their communities. Over the past 15 years, AFH has educated more than 10,000 professional, Olympic, Paralympic and collegiate athletes through its Causeway workshop series, and its network includes thousands of athletes across nearly every sport. AFH’s core programs focus on underserved youth physical activity and leadership, mental health, and brightening the lives of children in hospitals. Through their dedication and passion for doing good, AFH Athletes have positively impacted the lives of millions around the world.

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.

AFH Opinion

AFH Staff Opinion

Our Work Must Go On: What’s Changed Since Our First Mental Health Article?

Written by Suzanne Potts, LMSW, MPH & Rachel Chao

In 2019, we published an article talking about the real need for resources for athletes to protect and support their mental health. We shared these startling facts: approximately 35% of elite athletes experience mental health challenges, and only 10% of collegiate athletes in need of mental health resources actually seek them out. When we published it, there was a small minority of athletes who were willing to share parts of their stories, and mental health was only starting as a more common cultural conversation. 

In 2019, we could not have imagined where this conversation would go. 

Three years later, we’re still committed to elevating stories of athletes’ mental health journeys, and advocating for increased accessibility, awareness, and acceptance of athlete mental health resources.

Three years later, we’re still committed to elevating stories of athletes’ mental health journeys, and advocating for increased accessibility, awareness, and acceptance of athlete mental health resources. We solidified our dedication to athlete mental health by launching Whole Being Athlete in 2021. We are grateful and humbled to lift up the voices of our Mental Health Ambassadors, who have had the courage to share their own stories. We have worked with remarkable partners such as Doc Wayne, Hilinski’s Hope, The Hidden Opponent, PBS’ Well Beings and others who inspire us with their activism and courage. We have committed to consistently adding resources to our Mental Health Resource Hub, to ensure that help is never that far away. Athletes at all levels, from high schoolers to Naomi Osaka, have spoken out more and more about the importance of protecting their own mental health and supporting others to do the same. Organizations and teams have begun to do more work to re-examine how their environment impacts the mental health of their athletes. 

In the last three years, so much has changed, and yet  so much more work needs to be done. This conversation continues as a reaction to devastating losses in the sports world. In the spring semester of 2022, there have already been five confirmed student athlete deaths by suicide – each of these losses representing more than an athlete, but a person with hopes and goals and a community that misses them daily. In the last few weeks, we have had the opportunity to speak to current, future, and former athletes who have reached out to us, asking what they could do to help. Each of them have shared stories of their own challenges, and feelings of isolation, anxiety, or despair they experienced as an athlete. With these conversations, we heard a common theme of gratitude that this topic is coming up more and more… and the push to ensure that other athletes know that they are not alone.

Our work is just beginning, and this conversation is nowhere close to ending. Where do we go from here?

We go with courage, to start hard conversations. We created the Pledge to Reach Out to encourage athletes of all levels and abilities to reach out to their teammates who may be struggling. We will continue to reflect as an organization, to recognize how to better take care of ourselves, and our athletes.  We will take action when needed.

We go with recognition of the lives that we’ve lost. We remember the humanity of the athletes who have died by suicide. We think of their family, friends, and teammates, and will continue to hold them in our hearts. We are inspired by the families and friends involved at Hilinski’s Hope, Morgan’s Message, The Hidden Opponent, Doc Wayne, and so many other incredible organizations invested in supporting athlete mental health.

We go with resources and hope. We will continue to give a platform for stories of those who are willing to share their stories, to remind people that there is help and support waiting for them, whenever they’re ready to access it. We will continue to share hotlines, websites, and organizations that provide mental health support. We will continue to prioritize education around mental health and wellness. We will commit to bringing together athlete voices, stories, resources and more to elevate opportunities to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health.

Wherever we go next, we’re ready for the challenges ahead. We hope you will join us.