Two years ago, University of Tennessee swimmer Maddy Banic was carried off the NCAA Championship pool deck on a stretcher and taken to a local hospital. The culprit: a severe panic attack.
Ever since then, she worked not on her kick turns, but on her mental health. It all paid off, and her healing was highlighted in March as she stood atop the podium with the very teammates who helped save her life as they celebrated winning an NCAA Championship in the 200-yard medley relay.
Banic, who will graduate this summer with a degree in kinesiology, was diagnosed with depression and anxiety early in her college career, and turned to alcohol to ease her symptoms. However, after the very public panic attack and feeling like she let her team down, things got worse. She collected all the pills in her house and prepared to end her life, with farewell letters newly penned. Fortunately, she sent her therapist a text, and shortly after, two of Banic’s teammates ran through the door.
“That was definitely my lowest point,” Banic told Knox News. “I didn’t want to be here anymore. I don’t even know what really triggered it, but I just decided it was time to go. Carrie and Christina basically saved my life, so I owe them everything.”
After reaching her rock bottom and spending a month in residential treatment, Banic became an advocate for mental health. Not only did she start a blog, but she’s fighting to change NCAA policy regarding not being able to participate in team activities following time off.
“If you have extenuating circumstances like a mental health issue or a family member who is ill and you have to drop out of class, you should still be allowed to practice with the team when you come back,” Banic said. “I understand you don’t want them to compete or abuse the rule, but you should at least be able to practice with your team and get back to what is normal for you.”
Banic’s motivation for this fight stems from wanting to to show that it’s okay to ask for help.
“And not just ask for help, but it’s okay to step away and put yourself first. It’s hard to do as an athlete,” she told Swim Swam. “We are so used to routine and pushing through whatever is thrown at us that the idea of admitting we need help is scary. You hear about athletes with depression and anxiety, but rarely do you hear about an athlete giving up their sport and taking the step leave and go get help. I want people to understand that is okay and people do that, even at a elite level. That scary step can lead to you coming back better than ever. As an athlete, teammate and a person.”
Take it from a true champion.