Sports Imports is thrilled to announce that the winner of the 2021 Sports Imports/AVCA Courage Award is Victoria Garrick! Garrick is a former Division I volleyball player for USC, mental health advocate, TED Talk speaker, social media influencer and founder of The Hidden Opponent non-profit.
Garrick (24) began struggling with her depression and performance anxiety after beginning her college career at USC, and found the lack of resources and stigma surrounding mental health in college athletics discouraging. Garrick’s career as an advocate began with her 2017 TEDX Talk, “The Hidden Opponent,” where she spoke about mental health and the high-pressure environment of college athletics. Since then, Garrick has started conversations about mental health in college athletic departments all over the country through her speaking tours and non-profit, The Hidden Opponent.
The Hidden Opponent (THO) is a nonprofit organization that strives to support and educate student-athletes who may be struggling with their mental health. There are over 400 THO Campus Ambassadors all over the world who help de-stigmatize mental health in their athletic communities by encouraging and providing space for discussion among student-athletes.
Sports Imports: What made you decide to begin speaking out about mental health? Is there a particular moment that stands out to you?
Victoria Garrick: Once I finally reached out and began to receive help for my depression and anxiety, I was able to realize that what had happened to me was actually completely normal. Before seeking help, I had felt SO ashamed about what I was going through because I thought it meant I had failed in some way as an athlete. The stigma surrounding mental health issues, specifically within athletic culture, made me think my problems were “weaknesses” … things that separated me from the better/stronger athletes who didn’t have depression. As I worked through my struggles in therapy, I was able to talk through my problems to find solutions, learn to apply tangible tools to mitigate my anxiety, develop better self-awareness, and ultimately begin healing. It was through this experience I realized struggling with mental health was no different than struggling with a skill out on the court. (You identify the problem/the place where improvement is needed, and you put in the time to work on it!) This realization is what inspired me to speak out. I didn’t want any other athlete to continue suffering in silence, or feel the way that I did. I wanted them to know it was okay to seek help, and I wanted people within athletic communities near and far to start prioritizing mental health issues to erase this stigma.
SI: Has your perspective on your own mental health evolved since becoming an advocate for mental health? If so, in what ways?
VG: I think the biggest thing I’ve had to learn, and that has also been the hardest pill to swallow (no pun intended,) is that our mental health is something we will need to pay attention to and work on our entire lives! Just because I was able to get better or just because I now speak about these issues doesn’t mean I will never feel anxious or depressed again, and this goes for all of us. Also, athletes especially kind of have this urge to get the game plan, execute, and win. This can make mental health battles a challenge because we want to just “fix it.” But with mental health, there is no winner and loser, there is only a continuous process of learning to withstand the elements in each chapter of our lives.
SI: What advice would you give to student athletes struggling with their mental health? What advice would you give specifically to young women?
VG: I would urge them to PLEASE open up to someone in their life! If you are struggling, please let someone in as soon as possible. Unfortunately, mental injuries can not always be seen in the same way that physical injuries are. The best thing I ever did for my mental health issues was start that conversation so someone could help me, whether it’s with a teammate, a coach, a parent, a sibling, please tell someone how you are feeling.
For young women struggling to navigate their mental health and self-worth, I want them to know that they’re not alone in feeling lost or like they’re not good enough. Our society puts so many unattainable standards on us as females and likes to convince us that if we are not this one specific and perfect thing, we are not worthy. But THAT is a complete load of garbage!! In fact, our power is in our individuality and our pursuit to question these outdated norms. Align yourself with people who lift you up, inspire you, and stand by your side no matter what comes your way.
SI: What kind of mental health support do you hope to see from the NCAA and schools?
VG: It’s been incredible to see various schools, and even entire conferences, take such a stand to support student-athlete mental health. One of the most awesome things about this journey thus far has been watching how much fire the conversation has caught both at a university and national level. Now while the conversation seems to be happening everywhere, accessibility to one on one attention with a therapist/counselor/psychologist is still limited for many student-athletes. My hope is for it to be as easy for athletes to talk to a therapist as it is to get their ankles taped! At @thehiddenopponent it is a priority of ours to provide free programming, webinars, education, and support, to our community of athletes.
SI: What are your hopes for the future of The Hidden Opponent?
VG: Everything we’ve even been able to accomplish thus far has been an absolute dream and I’m so incredibly grateful to our entire team at THO who works tirelessly on this work every day. Looking towards the future, we want to continue leveling up and expanding our reach to keep fighting the stigma that surrounds athlete mental health. Right now, we have over 400 Campus Captain ambassadors globally, and we’re so excited to watch these athletes blossom as the next change makers. We are beyond grateful for anyone and everyone who has supported us in our pursuit to empower athletes to face the hidden opponent together.
SI: You’ve accomplished a lot both on and off the court – what achievement are you most proud of?
VG: It’s still a whirlwind for me to process where I am now and that I get the honor to do something meaningful that I wholeheartedly love every single day! Of course The Hidden Opponent is something I am immensely proud of, that community and the people in it are truly one of a kind. On a personal and “off paper” note, (because I do like to encourage people to celebrate the intangibles!) I am very proud of where I am at mentally today. I went from being in a very dark place, questioning my purpose, questioning life, feeling like I would never be good enough, to being really happy, and honestly developing a pretty cool relationship with myself. It’s not lost on me how far I’ve come, nor how privileged I am to have received the support that allowed me to get to this place too. I’m grateful for the journey because it brought me here today.
Find Garrick on Social Media:
YouTube: Victoria Garrick