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First-ever ‘Maryland Cares’ event focuses on student-athlete mental health

Former USC volleyball player Victoria Garrick teaches athletes to train their minds and make their mental health as a priority.

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One of the Maryland volleyball team’s former competitors returned to the Xfinity Center Monday night, but this time, she came as an ally.

Recent University of Southern California graduate Victoria Garrick invited Maryland student-athletes to “invest in their minds” by removing the stigma around mental health and seeking professional help to deal with the pressures and anxieties that accompany playing a collegiate sport.

Revisiting the court reminded Garrick of how far she has come in her mental health journey, which she now talks about on her podcast, “RealPod,” and through her nonprofit, The Hidden Opponent.

“Playing in a game in this arena and definitely feeling anxious — thinking how I was going to perform — and fast forward two years, being here now, and talking about those feelings is just a really full circle moment for me,” Garrick said.

A few months before playing against the Terrapins in 2017, Garrick began her advocacy for mental health awareness among athletes when she opened up about her performance anxiety, depression, and body image issues in a TED Talk that has over 230,000 views.

On the Xfinity Center court, Garrick said the culture of athletics centers around pushing through negative experiences like these in order to perform.

“Athletes are strong. Athletes don’t need help. Athletes just go out there and get it done,” she said, referring to the train of thought that stopped her from seeking help to deal with her mental health issues early on.

But Garrick has since changed her mindset, and advised that Maryland athletes do the same. She said athletes should replace the myths that they tell themselves — like “I’m not good enough” — with the truth: that they are.

After seeking help and learning how to practice mindfulness, Garrick said she learned how to retrain her mind. She went on to lead the Pac-12 conference in total digs her senior year, and ended her career with the fifth-most digs in USC program history.

The Maryland Student-Athlete Advisory Council teamed up with the Clinical and Sport Psychology Department to bring Garrick to campus for the first ever “Maryland Cares” event.

Amelia Jarecke / Testudo Times

Junior cross country athlete Courtney Mann helped organize the talk. Mann is also a member of the Student-Athlete Mentors program that creates student liaisons between the sports psychology department and the teams.

“Our big emphasis was that no one here is alone in their experience,” Mann said. “Unfortunately, there is a negative stigma on mental health, and so we want to destigmatize that, create a more positive image for it, and let everyone know that it’s okay to not be okay. And I think Victoria did just that tonight.”

Sophomore golfer and Advisory Council member Will Koras also helped organize the event.

“Mental health in student-athletes is really important and needs to be talked about more,” Koras said. “I’ve had my own battles with it, so it was something I can relate directly to. For me, it was just awesome to hear from someone who’s been in our shoes.”

Garrick’s message also resonated with sophomore baseball player Maxwell Costes.

“We’re always in a mindset where you have to be, as my baseball coach says: savages. So we never really stop to take care of ourselves,” Costes said. “To have somebody here to kind of throw that in our faces a little bit makes us reconsider some of the things that we do.”

Garrick said if she had to choose one thing for the athletes to walk away with, it would be the belief that experiencing any sort of mental health issue or mental illness does not make them weak or any less of a player.

“I want athletes to really recognize and appreciate and work on our mental health the same way we work on our physical health,” she said.

Editor’s note: Amelia Jarecke is on the Maryland softball team. This did not compromise her reporting of this article, but it’s worth noting for the sake of transparency.