Hokies THRIVE hosts a pair of virtual events to kick-off spring semester

Mental health matters. During these uncertain times, Virginia Tech student-athletes have taken that message to heart, and provided a space for their peers to focus on their mental wellness.

Earlier in the spring semester, The Office of Student Athlete-Development offered, to all student-athletes, two events focused on mental health, "Beast Mindset" in mid-February for female student-athletes, and "Own the Unknown" in early-March for male student-athletes.

Despite both events taking place virtually, participation was not lacking as more than 120 student-athletes were in attendance. Two years ago, a group of Virginia Tech student-athletes formed a mental health program called THRIVE. The focus of this program is to provide a safe space for student-athletes to discuss and address mental health topics in small group settings. A group of student-athletes worked in conjunction with the staff members in the athletics department's Office of Student-Athlete Development, and together, formed a team of ambassadors – one or two student-athletes from each varsity sport at Virginia Tech and these ambassadors  coordinated a plan with Natalie Forbes (Senior Director of Student-Athlete Personal Development) and Lauren Naldo (Counseling and Athletic Mental Performance Staff Counselor) to hold the two workshops this spring.

The female event, "Beast Mindset", focused on addressing performance anxiety.

"The greatest impact of THRIVE events is when one of our student-athletes no longer feels alone in their struggle" said Naldo. "It is an added benefit if they then feel comfortable opening up the conversation around mental health with their peers and teams, or if needed, seek out support from our CAMP staff."

After small group discussions focused on what performance anxiety "looks like" for each individual, Naldo guided the female student-athletes through an experiential exercise.

"I really enjoyed the experiential exercise that Lauren led us through during THRIVE. I felt like I was able to connect with my body and send a wave of calm throughout it. This exercise has been useful when I am feeling stressed, whether it be performance related or other pressures I am facing," said Cecilia Marenick, Virginia Tech track and field athlete. "THRIVE has provided me with many strategies that I am able to use in all areas of my life. I am grateful that we have an organization that addresses the importance of mental health for student-athletes."  
In the second workshop, "Own the Unknown," the male student-athletes had the opportunity to hear from former Virginia Tech wrestler, Ty Walz. The three-time All-American, whose Olympic dream was put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic, shared his perspective on how to deal with the unknown and stay motivated during these uncertain times.

"Ty shared a wealth of knowledge, but the greatest thing I took from the event is to control your immediate space. Don't get overwhelmed with a large task, rather control the things that you can influence. That being said, I've started to focus on positive energy both on and off the field," said Virginia Tech soccer player, Kahlil Dover. "THRIVE events provide a safe and exploratory space for both female and male athletes. With mental health being stigmatized within athletics and especially within male teams, the events are a chance to elevate past the stigma and then allow for the support that we all need."

The THRIVE events have encouraged thoughtful conversations between student-athletes, and the Office of Student-Athlete Development is looking forward to hosting more events in Fall 2021. Forbes and Naldo, in collaboration with the student-athletes, will determine the topics that will be discussed.

"It is inspiring to see so many student-athletes take the time to focus on their mental health and build community around a topic that affects so many of us." said Forbes. "The ultimate goal of THRIVE is to make sure that no one struggles alone, and this spring, our student-athletes made great strides toward that goal."