If this unusual ending to my time here has brought one thing to light it’s that it’s not just the championships or the wins that I remember, the most important part is going to be the people that I shared them with.
Olivia Ellard and Megan Dalke, co-captains of the UBC women’s swim team who are both in their 5th (and final) year as Thunderbirds, provide their thoughts on the importance of athlete mental health and wellness, while reflecting on their time as Thunderbirds.
What does athlete mental health mean to you?
Megan – To me, I think it’s one of the most important things to focus on as an athlete. When your mental health isn’t in check, it’s pretty hard to battle through the physical aspects of your sport. It’s something that I learnt a lot about when I came to UBC. I started to become more in-tune with myself and learnt to take a step back and collect when necessary. In terms of our team, it’s something we really value. We always encourage everyone to not only pay attention to their mental health if they feel challenged by a problem, but also to be proactive so they maximize their wellbeing both in and out of the pool.
What are some mental health challenges specific to swimming that you face as an individual or as a team?
Olivia – The schedule is definitely grueling, the early mornings and the intense training load alone can strain your mental health, but when you factor in the student aspect of being a student-athlete, all of a sudden we’re trying to balance all these things and it can take a toll if you’re not proactive about using the resources we have. Whitney Sedgwick, our team sport psych, does so much for our team. She plays a huge role in keeping us on track and is an amazing resource to have.
As captains, are there any bonding or wellness initiatives you’ve taken to keep the members of your team in good spirits?
Megan – What we’ve done for quite a while now is a sort of buddy system where an older swimmer pairs up with a younger swimmer and guides them through all the new experiences of coming to UBC as a freshman. We call it baby-bird momma-bird. We’ve also recently been doing a lot of team check-ins. In swimming, the long training blocks can be pretty draining, especially recently as we don’t have a competition in sight. It can get super demotivating. We like to take time to check-in with our teammates, whether it be a leisure Zoom hangout or a structured opportunity, to share how we’re feeling.
This year has been especially difficult for our freshman athletes who are joining the Thunderbird family at such a difficult time. What message, if any, do you have for them?
Olivia – It’s definitely super tough and we feel for our rookies.
Megan – A lot of our other senior athletes and myself have tried not to dwell on all that’s happening and the abnormality of the situation, and instead try to make it as normal as possible for them. Getting through this year as a rookie is no small feat and it’s a testament to our incoming class’s dedication to their sport. There are so many good things coming!
What’s a piece of advice you would give to a teammate for maintaining mental health as an athlete during this time?
Megan – One thing I’ve tried to do throughout this past year is think about the positive aspects of our current situation and shift the focus away from our inability to compete. Taking this time to work on other aspects of your life can be super beneficial, especially since none of us will be athletes forever.
Olivia – One of the biggest challenges for me during the pandemic was the amount of uncertainty it brought. I like to plan things super far in advance and all of a sudden that was taken away from me. I still try and plan out the little things like personal time and day schedules. I think trying to find ways to keep your routines similar to what you did in the past can be super helpful.
What’s your favourite pick me up when you’re feeling down?
Olivia – I would go with Rain or Shine ice cream, 100%.
Megan – Shopping on West Fourth and visiting the Whole Foods! Getting off campus and exploring Vancouver is always wonderful.
Has there been a person or group of people who have been there to support your mental health throughout your career?
Olivia – There’s so many people. For myself, we’ve had a pretty strong group of 5th-year girls who I started this whole journey with. I think my 5th-year teammates have been my rock through all of this and are constantly there if I need someone to turn to.
Megan – I would have to say the same. There’s seven of us and in swimming it’s very rare that all the rookies will stay together throughout the 5-year eligibility period. We’ve just been through it all together and are there for each other no matter what. It’s great to have a group of peers who relate to your struggles and can help you when the time comes.
As graduating athletes, obviously this wasn’t the final year you were looking for. However, I’d like to ask you both for one thing that you’re grateful for from your time as a Thunderbird?
Olivia – It’s such a hard question because there’s so much that I’m grateful for being a Thunderbird – these past five years have completely shaped who I am. I would say that I’m most grateful for the relationships that I’ve built. I’ve had the most amazing teammates over the years and I’ve been able to make lifelong friendships. If this unusual ending to my time here has brought one thing to light it’s that it’s not just the championships or the wins that I remember, the most important part is going to be the people that I shared them with.
Megan – It’s hard to pick one thing for me as well. I’m so grateful to have made so many amazing memories in and out of the pool. Some of my most cherished moments are from time spent with my teammates out of the water on team travel or at competitions
Interview by Quinn Storey, B.A. majoring in Psychology, UBC, and Mental Health Advocate