Ryan Sliwak

Article submitted by Ryan Sliwak Nov 30, 2018

Ryan Sliwak

November 30, 2018 — Ryan Sliwak — Founder Athlete Humanity
When I was 7 years old I lost my father in the Terrorist attacks of 9/11. Growing up sports became my outlet, and even more specific, the baseball field. The baseball field was the one place I could go to and escape the pain of grief, but still feel the happiness of what I once had with my dad. For the longest time the baseball field gave me happiness and a sense of connectedness to my father. It helped me burry and avoid the agony I felt when I was off the field. I continually used baseball as an escape from reality. It helped me channel what I was going through into motivation, to keep elevating my game to the next level. I internalized the idea that I wouldn’t have to continue to suffer off the field, as long as I was able to keep performing on it. For the longest time this worked for me; until I got to college.

College was the first time I came to understand the term depression. I was caught in a dark and negative cycle of constant thought, and the one place that use to be my escape began to become the place I experienced the most agony. When I got to college the pain and suffering off the field started to follow me onto it. I thought I was just going through a slump, or maybe just a rough patch in my career. However, it became extremely difficult to focus on what I needed to do to help fix my performance when the only thing on my mind was just how much I missed out on growing up without a dad. This became even more difficult when I thought that I wasn’t supposed to talk about something like depression, or how I thought that my personal life issues were supposed to be left behind when I stepped onto the field. I didn’t want to seem like this was an excuse for me not performing well. So, I did what typically most college athletes are taught to do, I suppressed it, and I told myself I should figure this out on my own. I internalized this idea that resiliency and truly getting through what I was going through could only be achieved by going through it on my own. I thought this was an independent battle, and I was alone through it all. I gave into the stigma of college sports, and I had that continual voice in my head that told me ‘it doesn’t matter what you’ve been through or are going through, you should still be able to perform on the field, those two things have nothing to do with each other.’ My performance never got better, and the sense of happiness I once had on field was completely replaced with pain every time I stepped onto it. This drove me to the point of deciding to walk away from baseball half-way through my senior year.

I realized after my experiences, there was a need for college athletes. A more nuanced understanding of the way we treat and approach them, and the necessity to stop primarily viewing them as athletes only, but rather hearing their story in its entirety. After finishing my Bachelor degree, I went back to school to get my Master Degree in Counseling Psychology, with a certificate in Sport and Exercise Psychology, and I am currently in pursuit of obtaining a doctorate degree. For me, the shift in the way we treat athletes needs to be built upon a foundation that allows us to properly diagnose and treat what they are experiencing in their personal life, before helping them perform on the field.

I have built this platform because I understand that although our experience with mental health may be different, the weight of the burden upon countless shoulders is often the same. I have seen college athletes who get caught in their own personal cycle of negative thinking. I didn’t have a place to turn to, to let me know I wasn’t alone, or a place to simply tell my story the way I wanted it to be told, separate from the influence of the overbearing feeling of the stigma. Most importantly, I have been a victim of thinking that a true testament of resiliency can only be achieved by overcoming this battle on my own.

We have always been told that there is life at the end of the tunnel. However, it becomes overwhelming when we feel like when we are never going to get there. The goal of this platform is for you to share your story, and to help establish a community where it is no longer a lonely journey to find that light; but rather helping you realize the light comes from within you and what you have been willing to endure. What I hope to gain from this platform is a community that shifts the focus away from finding the light at the end of the tunnel, and realize that collectively we can work towards illuminating our own path.

Athlete Humanity was created to show the human side of college athletes. This is done through you, and by you no longer being held down by the silence you were told to keep, and by sharing your story for how it truly is; unfiltered, unadulterated, and unguarded. Together the community created through Athlete Humanity will help to develop a new narrative surrounding mental health that is driven by the athletes who are enduring it.

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