THO: the importance of mental health in student athletes

THO, or “The Hidden Opponent”, is a non-profit organization focused on breaking the stigma of mental health in athletics. Founded in 2019 by Victoria Garrick, former Division I athlete and PAC-12 Champion who was a four year starter on the University of Southern California Women’s Volleyball team, it has acquired extensive reputation across college campuses in the United States and other parts of the world, having on-campus advocates also known as “campus captains”. This movement for advocacy has made its way to Lawrence University and has found it’s campus captain in Libby Crandall, a Junior currently majoring in Biochemistry and minoring in Spanish on a pre-medicine track. Libby is a member of the women’s basketball team, and came into this interview fresh from a career-high 20 point performance against Lake Forest College.  

In order to gain more information, I asked Libby a couple questions on how she became involved with THO, and how she hopes Lawrence’s chapter will help positively impact athletes’ mental health. 

Q: How did you find out about THO, and why did you decide to get involved? 

A: I am a fan of Victoria Garrick’s podcast, and one of those episodes, was fully dedicated to THO, something that immediately caught my attention, and made me want to be involved. Mental health is important whether you are an athlete or not. 

Q: What do you think are the stigmas associated with being a full-time student while also being an athlete? 

A: Mental health days don’t exist in the world of sports. As an athlete, there is no space for you to not feel well and taking time off practice can only mean more problems with your coach and team. As an athlete, you are always supposed to be strong, there are no outlets, and whenever you want to let your feelings out, you have to remember that being an athlete is your job, you are a reflection of the school that you represent, and thus it is hard to express the way that you feel. 

Sometimes it is thought that athletes do not feel stress. After all, your stress is taken out while playing that sport, but what many people do not realize, is that performing at a top level constantly, and understanding that every play matters is difficult at times. We still show up to class after a hard loss,  after travelling on a bus for hours and arriving back to campus very late at night, and when we get injured. All those times we still go to class, try to be involved on campus, and try to keep up with our work. Even as a Division III athlete, I am still expected to perform for my team every day at practice, every game that we are at, and every scrimmage that we have. 

Q: What are the biggest challenges that you face on campus while being involved in sports? 

A: It is hard to partake in any extracurriculars. I am a Pre-Medicine student, and I have yet to attend a single AMSA (American Medical Student Association) meeting, since every time that they are held, I have had a practice or a game. I was also forced to miss all of my soroity’s recruitment week because I had practice going on at that time. It is hard to be an active member of campus when there is such a high time commitment to your sport. 

Q: How do you manage unforeseen circumstances? As a student athlete you are so constrained for time that it does not seem as if you have a lot of room for anything to go wrong on or off the court. 

A: In reality, it is hard to manage. There will be times when I just do not feel well enough to finish an activity I started, and I decide to go to sleep since I know I need the rest. I plan ahead as best I can and hope that things go well. I take every challenge as it comes and hope I can make the best out of the situation. 

Q: How do you intend to spread word of THO on campus? 

A: We will have a booth at our next home game. But as a campus captain, I am currently attempting to form a club in order for different teams to have representatives and we discuss these important issues. At the end of the day, it does not matter to me whether you are an athlete or not, we can all relate when it comes to the importance of mental health, and pushing towards finding ways to better it, is a goal that I have. I look forward to connecting with administration to put together events that are open for all the campus community, not just to bring awareness to mental health, but also to aid in the connection between the general campus community and athletes. 

And don’t forget to come support your Lady Vikes! We play at home against Lake Forrest College on Wednesday 2/8 at 5:30 PM in Alexander Gymnasium, followed by the senior day vs. Cornell College on Saturday 2/11.