Elite Utah athlete talks about her struggles with mental health

May 31, 2022, 8:45 PM | Updated: Jun 1, 2022, 10:59 am

SALT LAKE CITY — Athletes are disciplined, strong-willed and dedicated, but they don’t always have it all together.

On the outside, Rylin Adams, a star volleyball player at Weber State University, was at the top of her game.

But internally, the pressure to look a certain way consumed her and she realized the sport she loved all her life was also harming her.

“It’s always been my dream to go and compete at the highest level,” Adams said.

From Lehi High School to Weber State University, the volleyball player dominated the court.

She took a break from school to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Philippines.

“I was expected to be in shape in like three months after coming home from my mission,” Adams said.

She soon developed an eating disorder.

“My mind was in such a dark place. But not only mentally was I struggling, my body was deteriorating.”

Her story isn’t unique.

“There’s enormous pressure,” said Dr. Noel Gardner, founder and CEO of Impact Mental Health Clinic in Salt Lake City. “It’s very competitive, especially at the higher levels.”

He said there is little room for error and athletes place unrealistic expectations on themselves.

“I got to a point where if I didn’t win a drill, I didn’t deserve water,” said Adams. “If I didn’t do well in practice, I didn’t deserve dinner.”

Approximately 30% of female and 25% of male student-athletes report anxiety according to the American College of Sports Medicine.

Only 10% of all college athletes with known mental health conditions seek care from a mental health professional.

Thirty-five percent of elite athletes suffer from disordered eating, burnout, depression and/or anxiety.

“Sometimes we’d play at places where they had the big screen, the Megatron,” said Adams. “In the middle of plays, I could look up and see myself playing and immediate anxiety would hit me like I look fat.”

It took months for Rylin to admit she had a problem and ask for help. With assistance from her coach, family and nutritionist, she’s changing her mindset. “The biggest pivotal point for me in my therapy was realizing that I am not a student-athlete. It’s not who I am. It’s what I get to do,” she said.

Outside of sports, Gardner says your self-worth should come from meaningful relationships and your performance.

“Part of that has to do with social connections, that is people who are genuine, real friends who really care about them whether they succeed or not,” Gardner said.

“Because that’s what my coach Jeremiah did. He didn’t know how to cure me of a mental illness, but he was there for me every single step of the way,” Adams said.

She is on a mission to help college athletes, currently playing beach volleyball at the University of Louisiana Monroe – where she is also pursuing a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling.

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Elite Utah athlete talks about her struggles with mental health