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Earlier this week I was able to speak with Victoria Garrick, a former Division I and semi-pro volleyball player who’s an outspoken mental health advocate and and self-love enthusiast. She’s a spokesperson for Geese Are Never Swans, the forthcoming YA novel from the late Kobe Bryant; created by Bryant and written by Eva Clark, the book takes a crucial look at the highly pressurized world of athletics through the lens of Gus, a swimmer who’s trying to keep his head above water amidst grief and stress. While anyone can be susceptible to struggling with mental health issues, it’s something that is only very recently being brought into the spotlight in the realm of sports, so this fictionalized exploration of very real themes is super important.

Garrick and I discussed some of the unique challenges faced by athletes of all ages during these unprecedented times.

“It’s definitely traumatic. Globally, what we’re going through is affecting us all in different ways, especially student athletes; it’s heartbreaking to think about how hard they’ve worked to get to the level they’re at, and then to have that taken away. My heart goes out to those senior athletes that didn’t get to finish their seasons off,” she told me over the phone.

“It’s something no one has experienced before, so in terms of handling it, there’s no right answer. But to athletes who are struggling, just think about how strong and brave and amazing they must be as people to be where they are in life, and a lot of that experience and wisdom they can hopefully call on during these uncertain times to help them navigate it all.”

Athletics aside, many have been grappling with eating disorders during the pandemic. Garrick has been outspoken about her own struggle, and says that “being confined to a small environment where the kitchen is right there can feel haunting and triggering. There are so many toxic comments about quarantine weight gain, and people haven’t seen us, and it’s just not helpful.”

Despite the difficulties, she notes that one benefit might be that people may finally have the time and focus to confront their issues head-on.

“If you’ve had issues with food or your body, now is the time to answer the call; it’s magnified, we’re near our kitchens, we’ve got nothing else to think about, it’s at the forefront of our minds, so are we going to address what those problems are and try to figure them out and work through them? Or are we going to continue running? This has been a really good opportunity for me, too, to get in tune with my relationship with myself and with food. That awareness and that willingness to dive inwards and figure out what’s going on is really tough, so anyone having those thoughts is incredibly brave and on the right path.”

And in general, even though many of us are having to sit with our struggles at the moment (and that can be very uncomfortable), there is a level of value in having the space and time to begin confronting underlying issues.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for us, because the world feels like it’s on pause. There are things going on that are incredibly sad, and you can’t ignore them, but I think the silver lining might be that now this time is being forced upon us to do the personal work and see where we’re really at.”

Geese Are Never Swans comes out on Tuesday, July 21st via Granity Studios; preorder here.