As more and more people join the “ more than an athlete” movement - such as Lakers star Lebron James, it’s only a matter of time before my non profit idea gets the attention it deserves! Everyday I continue to advocate and speak out on the importance of life beyond sports. We are not just athletes, we are authors, moms, dads, leaders, CEO’s, artists, activists, singers, role models, husbands and wives, philanthropists, brothers and sisters, scientists. The lists goes on and on, WE ARE MORE THAN ATHLETES. I am living proof that you CAN be both, or all of the above , and I know so many people who would benefit from my help if they just knew where to start! Please continue to help me get my idea out there, and in the mean time please feel free to reach out with any advice or information that will help my non profit succeed, for I know I can help change so many lives! Below gives detail to why I am so passionate about this, my own story and ways I plan to use any donations I recieve! Together we CAN make a difference!
MY OWN PERSONAL STORY:
Many of you know me as Sadie Petersen, one of the best female athletes to come out of Washington State. What most of you don't know, is that from the age of 14 and on, I battled with multiple injuries, eventually resulting in a career ending injury affecting my spine. For years I knew something wasn't right with my body. I was always hurting, always in the training room, always on pain pills. Sports were everything to me though -- my way into college, my escape, and my entire identity. So, when my coaches asked if I was okay, my answer was always yes, knowing I wasn't. How do you say no when you're told by your coaches, peers and even teammates that you would be letting your team down if you don't play, or that you would lose your scholarship if you sit out, or even that you are useless to the team if you're injured? You do this by convincing yourself that you're fine, and that the pain will go away if you help your team win, and so you take another pain pill, and lace your shoes up for your game. As I sit here writing this, I can't help but to tear up and become sick to my stomach. My entire life was consumed with sports and I didn't know how to stop.
Finally, reality struck hard when I was told I could no longer play competitive sports because of the repetitive trauma I had caused to my back. I simply didn't know how to say no, and I kept playing when I shouldn't
have. Knowing my career was over, all I kept asking myself was, "What now?" and, "Who am I if I'm not an athlete?" I soon battled with depression and anxiety, and even tried to convince myself it wasnt real, eventually isolating myself from others for years. I knew this had to change and I couldn't let sports define me anymore. I began finding other ways to cope with the loss of something that was once entirely apart of my identity. No one told me how hard the journey would be though, from transitioning from everything being scheduled for me, to being praised for my talents by my peers daily, to being forgotten about, to then trying to live a "normal" life outside of sports. During this time, not only was I watching everything that made me who I was disappear in front of my eyes, I also was witnessing the loss of sports negatively impact so many close to me as well. I watched friends and family members turn to drugs and alcohol because they too felt lost because of similar situations as mine.
Now, On December 20th, 2017 I will be undergoing spinal fusion surgery, a major surgery that could have been prevented if someone would have told me that saying no would have been okay, or if I just would have reached out for help with the MENTAL and physical disabilites that I faced. Throughout my journey of finding myself and learning to cope with chronic pain, while also finding new ways to feel important outside of the sports world, I was able to discover that my new purpose in life was to help others who also struggle with the loss of sports and identity loss learn to discover a new sense of purpose within their lives as well. My own personal story and struggles gave me a deeper understanding of how mental illness can play a huge part in an athletes' sports career. I knew my next step in my journey was to take action in this process.
WHY SEEKING HELP IS SO IMPORTANT:
In many people's eyes, athletes are looked at as some of the strongest people in the world. They are praised by their peers, their community, and by their coaches for their dedication and talent. BUT, Fewer than one percent of athletes go on to play pro ball, leaving the other 99 percent to endure upon a huge transition in their lives like I did. This often leads to negative choices due to identity loss, loss of self esteem, feeling less valued by society, depression, lack of structure, financial struggles and drug and alcohol addictions.
What those on the outside fail to realize is that most of these athletes have had this identity from the adolescence stage. The bulk of their success in life came from sports, thus, they were defined by their sport, instead of by WHO they are as a person. When you take away the very core of an athletes importance, their identity is taken also. They are no longer looked at as superior by their friends and family, their coaches move on to the next top athlete, and they are left asking, "What now?" and, "Who am I?"
It is often said that a sports star will die twice, the first time being when their career is over. For elite athletes who have dedicated their lives to sports, what happens when your time comes to an end? If you aren’t an athlete, then who are you? Sport career termination induces dramatic changes in athletes’ personal, social and occupational lives often leading them to a feeling of emptiness when no help is provided. One of the main issues during this transition stage is knowing or learning how to reconstruct and adjust themselves on the basis of a new life style.
FACTS ON HOW RETIREMENT AFFECTS ATHLETES:
Boxing legend Sugar Ray Leonard once said, “Nothing could satisfy me outside the ring… there is nothing in life that can compare to becoming a world champion, having your hand raised in that moment of glory, with thousands, millions of people cheering you on." Sugar Ray often publicly shared his life of depression, but it was hardly ever talked about because he was a winner, completely putting aside the fact that this man was reaching out for help. For some, the depression becomes too heavy, and with no support or help, athletes also have been known to commit suicide. One person we may all have heard about was Elena Ivashchenko who commited suicide following depression brought on by failure of winning a gold medal in 2012.
Athletes may turn to substances to cope with numerous stressors, including pressure to perform, injuries, physical pain, and retirement from a life of sports. Athletes may be significantly less likely to receive treatment for underlying mental illnesses such as depression, and instead receive treatment and rehabilitation for physical injuries, often because the world views mental illness in athletes as a sign of weakness. Untreated mental illness is often associated with substance use, perhaps in an effort to self-treat themselves. Alternatively, substance abuse may then cause mental illness, creating a viscous cycle. According to a 2015 study on Professional Football players, the article noted that there is a high prevalence of mental health issues, financial uncertainty and chronic health problems among the country’s retired and transitioned players. The findings in this study also revealed that 45.2 percent of players rated their transition as difficult
to very difficult, and 65.7 percent indicated that football commitments had a negative impact on their ability to focus on other life events.
Because most athletes don't ever want to think about their career ending, transitioning is often found to be extremely difficult because of the sudden loss. It is estimated that about 20 percent of athletes need
psychological adjustment after they leave their sport, but, most don't know how to get help. This is where I want to intervene.
HOW I WILL HELP:
THIS cycle must change. For the past year, I have been working toward raising money to open up a non-profit organization to give current, young, injured and retired athletes a new voice. My goal is to bring awareness to this issue starting at a younger age, while also helping those now who struggle with the loss of sports and identity loss by helping them feel a sense of purpose off of the playing field. Whether it's helping them with job skills, giving financial guidance, helping with drug and alcohol addictions, providing them with resources on how to cope with depression, to better preparing them on how to live in the real world without sports, to ultimately achieving a new life purpose, and a new identity.
HOW YOU CAN HELP/SUPPORT AND HOW YOUR DONATIONS WILL HELP:
Some imporant attributes that I will focus on to help reduce the chances of depression, help better prepare athletes after retirement, and to help those who currently struggle with this loss include:
- Reducing exclusive identification with their sporting role
- Expanding their self-identity by finding new hobbies and a new purpose
- Discovering other interests beyond sports, perhaps considering coaching or mentoring
- Tapping into their artistic abilities
- Meditation techniques to help clear their minds
- Developing stress management and time management skills
- Encouraging strong relationships with past and new coaches, family, friends and managers
- Encouraging deeper relationships with those who care about their overall success and personal growth, instead of only their sports success.
- Offer emotional support
- Offer a variety of resources in the community
- Offer guidance if they are struggling financially, having difficulty finding a job, or struggling with substance abuse
- Connecting athletes with others who understand their pain and loss and finding a community that makes them feel safe
- Traveling from school to school to start bringing awareness to youth athletes on this issue
- Overall help better prepare each person I work with for their futures with or without sports
It took my own battles and struggles with depression from the loss of sports to find my purpose in life. My goal now is to bring awareness of depression in athletes to the light, and to help those who are going through similar situations find their purpose as well. With time, dedication and support, the goal of my project is to help give this population the resources and support they might be looking for to do so. I will not stop until this issue is brought to the light. After my own recovery from surgery, I plan to hold more fundraising events such as a banqueted auction to help get the community involved, a walk-a-thon to help raise more funding for building space and computers, and funding
from the government to help support this cause. I will continue to support this issue and raise awareness
every single day. Your thoughts, ideas, and personal stories and opinions are welcomed!
Thank you for taking the time to read my story, please share, and I thank you for any support and donations in advance! If you have and questions or comments or would like to share your own personal story, you can contact me on Facebook messanger and I will do my best to answer any questions and comments you may leave.
I am also looking for people willing to do live interviews for an up and coming YouTube page who want to share their stories with me!
MORE THAN AN ATHLETE
- Andy Breshears
- Chandler Blanks
- Russ Hensley
- Michael Delancy
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