Climbing to the top of the sports world is a common dream and getting there takes a combination of skill, determination and timing. But even for those who have played in those elite ranks, the stressful nature of sports can take a toll on their mental health. For Olympic silver medallist and former Harvard forward Lyndsey Fry, the message is clear: "Don't be afraid to ask for help."
Fry, who is now the Arizona Coyotes' senior director of hockey development, will be speaking at a virtual event on May 18, held by Connections Academy, an online schooling company this week as part of Mental Health Awareness Month.
Born and raised in Arizona, Fry does a ton of grassroots work with the Coyotes, including introducing girls to the sport she fell in love with as a kid. But she also has her own story to tell about learning to deal with pressure and staying mentally healthy.
"I had a pretty stress-free childhood in a lot of ways," Fry said. "So it wasn't until high school and college that I really started to experience some new emotions and challenges. One thing I'm really open and vulnerable about with kids is my freshman year of college: I was kind of a mess. I went from being a talented hockey player in Arizona, where I was a big fish in a small pond out West, to Harvard. And for the first time in my life, school was hard and I wasn't the best hockey player on my team. I really struggled with that because so much of my identity is wrapped up in being the best. That was tough."
Balancing hockey and an elite university education was difficult and Fry admits that her preternatural talents meant that she wasn't the hardest-working player back in high school. During her freshman season at Harvard, her best friend from high school died in a car accident and Fry found herself on the brink of quitting as she dealt with depression and anxiety.
She credits her Harvard teammates with helping her get through her pain and found a positive outlet in therapy, something she likens to a visit to a doctor or masseuse - only therapists help your mental health instead of your physical health. Opening up to others in her circle also lifted her up and even forged a stronger bond with her brother in the process.
"There is still so much of a stigma that we have to be 'tough' and 'strong,' " Fry said. "And one thing that is important for me to break down is that mental toughness and fortitude are not about just blocking everything away and not talking about your feelings. Sometimes mental toughness is the ability to be vulnerable with the people you love, and let them in."
Ultimately, Fry believes that getting her mental health back on track was what allowed her to earn her spot on Team USA's 2014 Olympic squad. She didn't have a big role on the team, but prided herself on being a "killer teammate" who was there for others when they were struggling at the tournament.
Now with the Coyotes, Fry delights in working with little girls who are just learning how to play hockey and she believes that the sport offers unique lessons in life: Unlike a lot of other sports, hockey doesn't stop when you get knocked down - because life doesn't stop when you get knocked down, either. She is particularly happy to give back to the game that has given her so much in life.
"Everything good I've ever had in my life came through this sport," she said. "My relationship with my family, my education, now my job, my character-building...to be able to grow it in a market with such potential has truly been one of the greatest joys of my life."