The Charles Johnson Theater was filled with excitement as students waited for accomplished writer and author Kate Fagan Oct. 10. 

Wearing bright purple Jordans and a fashionable gray pant suit, Fagan took the stage ready to talk to students on the importance of mental health. 

Fagan is well known for her work on ESPN but has recently turned to raising awareness for mental health among collegiate athletes.

Student Activities Council Director of Lecture Kyle Harris was responsible for bringing Fagan to campus and was excited for the impact she would leave on the student athletes on campus.

“I think it’s important that the right people are here,” Harris said. “The athletic department was excited to come, and I think they will take a lot away from her speech.”

Kate Fagan

ESPN analyst Kate Fagan spoke to students about mental heath Oct. 10 at the Ron Houston Center of the Preforming Arts.

Students were moved by her speech on the importance of mental health. Freshman George Smith said Fagan’s words caused him to take action in his own life and make mental health his first priority.

“I thought she was very intimate and passionate about mental health, and it spoke to me personally,” Smith said. “I am not happy here on campus, and I haven’t voiced that enough, but after hearing her talk about (Madison Holleran)’s story, I think I need to change that.”

Smith originally planned to leave Northwest, but he is now finding ways to love the campus once more by exploring the clubs on campus and seeking help from close friends.

Fagan discussed the story of Holleran, a student athlete at the University of Pennsylvania, who took her life after struggling with the lifestyle of being a college athlete.

Freshman Camden Anderson drew some similarities to Maddy’s story during his time in high school. Anderson played varsity basketball and football and remembers times of stress and anxiety before games.

“I went through some struggles in high school that was similar to her,” Anderson said. “I was a perfectionist as well and knowing that other people feel the same way was very reassuring.”  

Fagan did not shy away from discussing suicide and mental health and encouraged students to open up about what is going on in their lives.

“The hope is that the ones who are feeling like something is wrong or are struggling in some way will know it’s not because they are weak or flawed,” Fagan said. “It’s because there is a lot going on in life for college students and athletes, and it’s okay to feel those feelings.”

Fagan spoke to Northwest athletes on a personal level, discussing what she had endured while playing collegiate basketball at the University of Colorado and the emotional toll it had on her mind as a young adult.

“The toughest thing was feeling like I never knew who I was outside of the sport,” Fagan said. “A lot of college athletes have walked across campus heading to practice and seen students hanging out and planning their nights, and there is just this longing to find out who you truly are.”

Fagan wrote in her book “What Made Maddy Run” that she fully understands the pressure collegiate athletes are under to succeed and the effects it has on their mental health.

“My first year at Colorado was a struggle for me,” Fagan said. “It started a couple months into practice where I started ruminating and anxiously obsessing over the next practice the minute the first one ended, where it was like, ‘Oh my God, I’m only 22 hours from the next time I have to go through this.’''

The pressure Fagan was under led her to spontaneously take her roommate’s iron pills in hopes of getting sick and not having to endure practice once again. 

While physical sickness did not come, Fagan realized her mental and emotional health needed addressing and reached out for help from her trainer in college. She would learn how to maintain her mental health and would go on to finish her basketball career at the University of Colorado.

With experience as a student athlete and a platform to voice her concerns, Fagan feels that students looking to pursue college sports should reconsider before doing so.

“Outside of Division-I football and men’s basketball where they are truly going for the ‘Sports is everything’ experience, it isn’t balanced,” Fagan said. “With coaches being paid such a high amount and college sports being a billion dollar industry, student athletes are forced to perform at insane levels, and it isn’t fair.” 

Fagan has traveled around the country telling Holleran’s story and informing thousands of students on how to handle mental health as a collegiate athlete.

If you are having thoughts of suicide, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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