Angelica Gavaldon played her first pro tennis tournament at the young age of 14 and by 19 she had made it to her first Olympics. But the glory came with some challenges.
“The better I did, the more pressure I felt,” said Gavaldon.
Mental health and pressure are part of the competition but often remain hidden.
“Much more needs to be done,” said Ami Strutin-Delinoff, sports psychologist. “We’re just not at the level yet where mental health is looked at like physical health.”
Strutin says that while he has been seeing more athletes reach out for help, there’s still a big stigma to overcome.
“You’re a human first, athlete second because that's the reality of what it is,” said Strutin. “And athletes at the highest levels deal with the same struggles that everyday people deal with.”
During the summer Olympics in Tokyo last year, star gymnast Simone Biles shocked the world when she decided to withdraw from the competition due to mental health. It was later revealed that Biles was also struggling with trauma from past sexual abuse.
This week we saw a heartbroken Mikaela Shiffrin fall to her knees after failing to finish her first two races. The 26-year-old is also dealing with the trauma of her recently deceased father.
“If you don't address it as we go it can have a fallout in that most pristine moment in which you want to showcase yourself,” said Strutin. “Just like these athletes have trained their physical bodies; strength, flexibility, mobility, you must be training that emotional and mental side as you go.”