Illinois women’s gymnastics team prioritizes mental wellness
The University of Illinois women’s gymnastics team has dedicated its 2023 season to prioritizing mental health.
Some ways the gymnasts are focusing on mental health include working with organizations that support mental health, dedicating each meet to a message that promotes mental health and spreading information on social media.
Some of the messages the team has spread involve topics like suicide prevention, anxiety and depression awareness, cultural unity and more.
Mia Takekawa, a senior gymnast, said the team was inspired to raise awareness about mental health because someone on the team was personally affected by it.
“We had someone on our team who had a family member that was impacted by mental health pretty significantly, so that was kind of our main motivator to support our teammate,” Takwkawa said.
Mental health is especially important for athletes, Takekawa said.
“I think for athletes in general, it's really easy to get kind of secluded in your own head about your personal challenges that you have going on,” Takekawa said. “So I think the biggest thing that this has opened up for us and our team, that I think is really impactful for anybody in sports or just in life, is to be able to connect with each other.”
So far, some team members said they’ve already seen success in raising awareness about athletes’ mental health.
Julia Waight, a senior gymnast, said their initiative is inspiring other programs.
“We just had a meet and it was about how to talk to ourselves positively, and we have received feedback,” Waight said. “After that meet, a lot of coaches and gymnasts really enjoyed it, and they’re gonna take what we were teaching them in that meet and take it to their practices and start using that to their advantage.”
Mental health is also specifically important for sports like gymnastics, Waight said.
“I think we're always our harshest critic,” Waight said. “And we've just always been a team that kind of promotes how we are doing mentally, because that, in turn, affects our gymnastics.
“And all of that just helps us to have more fun and be more successful in our gymnastics because we aren't being so critical and putting as much pressure on ourselves.”