Guerin, Holohan Bringing Morgan's Message to Arizona State
"As a student-athlete, I have definitely struggled with mental health, both on and off the field," sophomore midfielder Lexi Guerin reflected. "It affects your confidence, it affects your mood at practice, which then affects your teammates and coaches, and it also affects your love for the sport. One thing that I have come to terms with is the more I help spread the word, the more other people are still going to be able to find that love for their sport, love their teammates and coaches, pursue their sport and be happy. That's what I did. I went to counseling. I worked my way back to getting the confidence I needed and love for lacrosse again."
Sun Devil Lacrosse midfielders Brynn Holohan and Lexi Guerin have worked their entire lives to become Division I student-athletes. They understand the sacrifice, commitment, and dedication it takes to get to this level. At times, the rigorous schedule of a student-athlete puts their physical health to the test. But what many fail to realize is the toll it can take on mental health. Holohan and Guerin are using their platforms with Sun Devil Lacrosse and teaming up to raise awareness and erase any stigma surrounding mental health in collegiate athletics.
"Morgan's Message was established in honor of Morgan Rogers, who was a former Duke lacrosse player." junior midfielder Brynn Holohan explained. "She unfortunately took her life in 2019 after suffering an injury, which led her to struggle with her mental health. Her parents felt that she did not feel that she could talk to anyone, and that there was not a lot of support at her school, or athletic department. They established Morgan's Message in honor of her, and established an education program with ambassadors tasked with spreading the word to different schools."
The duo are the first ambassadors of the "Morgan's Message" chapter at Arizona State. The organization is made up of student-athletes who meet bi-weekly to shed light on the subject of mental health and establish an open dialogue where everyone feels comfortable sharing their experiences.
"Lexi and I are ambassadors for Morgan's Message, so we are called 'Morgan's Messengers,' to continue to spread the word," Holohan described. "With these ambassadors and established messengers at different universities and with high schools and different clubs, they ultimately want to form communities for people to talk and know other people, especially student-athletes because Morgan was a student athlete, to know others are struggling. Student-athlete mental health is clearly a big issue, and unfortunately getting worse, so we want to help put an end to that. We want to form communities to start conversations about mental health, and make it more normalized, especially in the student athlete community. We hope to equalize the treatment of physical and mental health in athletics."
The topic is so important to the two because of their own battles, which they courageously revealed to demonstrate it is okay to have moments of vulnerability.
"Originally, when I heard about Morgan's Message I was interested, especially because it started in the lacrosse community, and I saw it spreading with other teams, and seeing it on social media," Holohan remembered. "Since I have gone to college I have really struggled with my mental health and I wanted to help people help other people. I went to their website, looked on their page and saw where I could sign up to become an ambassador, so I went from there. I think there's around 1,000 ambassadors now - it's an insane number. I was super excited to become a part of the community. They have an ambassador's page, where they can repost why you wanted to join and why you are passionate about mental health. I reposted, and Lexi and I started to talk about it, she got interested too. From there, we started to talk to administration, Deana Garner-Smith and Bill Kennedy, and going over what we envisioned Morgan's Message to be here at Arizona State. We are starting this new chapter, there was not anything here, before that. Since then, we have been having bi-weekly meetings with Mental Health Support Committee. We have been talking to people who have other mental health programs on campus, especially with athletes. We're just looking to find a day and time to get people to come to these meetings, get people interested and comfortable to start this community on campus."
Lexi Guerin shed some light on what type of impact they are hoping this organization has on the Sun Devil Athletics community and beyond.
"I want people to feel comfortable talking about their struggles," Guerin mentioned. "It's not something in the past that has been normal to do. I have always been the type of person who has been open about my struggles with mental health, but I know some like to keep it to themselves. I feel like Brynn and I, with Morgan's Message, can help people feel more comfortable to talk with not just us, but with their friends and family, about what they are going through, how they can be supported, where they can find support. Brynn and I are really helping people feel comfortable with their struggles. If you sprain your ankle, you can go someone to get it taped. With mental health, it's been frowned upon in the past to go seek counseling, and we want to make it more regular, more normal, and more talked about. People should be able to feel more comfortable with how they are feeling. Our overarching goal is to make people feel more comfortable with themselves and be able to reach out and get help."
The Sun Devil Lacrosse program has established an extremely healthy culture and positive atmosphere, helping Guerin and Holohan get through some tough times of their own. This special environment is a big reason for rapid improvement of the program, with student-athletes feeling comfortable and confident being surrounded by their best friends.
"I always knew I wanted to go ASU," Holohan reminisced. "I was so interested and excited when I came, but I really struggled once I got to school. My first semester was probably one of the hardest few months of my life, being really far from home. I was really homesick and anxious about a lot of things, with starting lacrosse and school. It was very overwhelming. The team during that time was the support I needed. Having those teammates as a support system, our coaches were supportive and allowed me to open up about what I was going through and help me find counseling, or the sports psychologist we have here. Our trainer, Caitlyn [Blanton], gave me an insane amount of support. Overall, the family that I have here is something I really appreciate. I never expected or anticipated to have it. People say, 'your team is your family,' but during that time they were a huge support system for me while I was far away from home. No one wants to say their struggling. The first semester of college, everyone wants to say they are having the time of their life, and overall, the team and upperclassmen were so welcoming and great listeners and resources, and great people to lean on. I want to be that for our underclassmen, and just in general."
Guerin shared a similar feeling as Holohan, leaning on her teammates to get her through initial mental struggles.
"Obviously, I was nervous for my first semester of college," Guerin recollected. "I had moved multiple times, with family and without, it was still a different chapter in my life. I was nervous because it was a larger group filled with girls that have been together for many years. The first time we stepped in the locker room we had to do introductions, and I had never felt more comfortable standing in front of a group of 40-something girls, sharing who I was, where I was, and what my parents did. I felt so happy to see all these girls with big smiles. That was the first time I knew ASU was going to be perfect. I remember my first day at practice, I looked at Glag [Emily Glagolev] and was like, 'I don't know what I'm doing. I don't know what this drill is,' she looked at me, and just said, 'you're fine. Just follow me.' That was the first thing I remember from ASU practice, because I was so nervous and I just had this support of a fifth year who started and was an insane player, and I knew she didn't see me as just this freshman, she saw me as a teammate and that's when I really got comfortable. These girls really knew how to take us under their wings and took great care of us. If I had an issue, I knew I could text any of the girls. I had that support from everyone."
Not every student-athlete has the luxury of these support systems, which is a reason why Holohan and Guerin are pushing to make sure this subject gets the proper attention. Arizona State and Sun Devil Athletics offer mental health resources which are nearly unmatched around the country, providing the proper infrastructure to ensure the well-being of the student-athletes.
"The counseling department at Arizona State is awesome," Holohan observed. "It's free and you can call anytime. They are very welcoming. Any time I call I feel very comfortable talking to them. I know they have the sports psychologist, Jamie, she's awesome. Every year they introduce her to our team. She's a great resource. I have met with her and she's great. Also, we were saying on a more direct level, Caitlyn [Blanton], our trainer is an awesome resource. She's there to support all of us, whether it's physical injuries, or mental health struggles, she's there, she's the best. I think with this mental health support committee with SAAC, they're great and we plan on doing multiple things with the mental health realm this year. They serve as a great resource for student athletes. We've talked about how we all want to reach the same goal, and have different ways to get there, so that's why we want to have our different groups available, so that we can refer people to different groups that can support them best."
"Even if counseling services is not for you, I know the athletic department has helped me and the others in the past," Guerin added. "I love counseling services, but the athletic department has given us services on and off campus. There are others to see off campus, as well."
Tragic incidents such as the recent passing of Stanford women's soccer player Katie Meyer and 2019 death of Morgan Rogers are sobering reminders of the progress still needed to. be made in collegiate athletics mental health. The legacy of these two individuals and others who experienced the same battles live on with the Sun Devil Lacrosse team.
"I got a semi-colon tattoo after the Katie Meyer, the Stanford women's soccer goalie, passed away. I posted it on Instagram, and if you had asked me to do that two years ago, I never would have, but I was sitting with my teammates and they told me to do it and were proud of me, so I did it," Guerin exclaimed. "I had never felt more comfortable in my life."
Holohan and Guerin have received encouraging feedback from the Sun Devil Athletics community, already making a difference in the lives of student-athletes. The effort has already been noticed by new Sun Devil Lacrosse Head Coach Taryn VanThof.
"I am proud of Lexi and Brynn for taking initiative and establishing a branch of this impactful organization at Arizona State," Coach VanThof . "They are a big part of the outstanding culture that we have at Sun Devil Lacrosse."
For more information on how to join the organization, visit the following link. Follow the Morgan's Message at ASU page on Instagram (@morgansmessageatasu) to show your support.