Published by Holly Ruvo
Interviewed by Ben Ruvo
From Huntington Bay, New York, Riley Katzman is a junior student-athlete on the Washington College Tennis team. In her 2017-2018 season, she went 4-2 in singles (including 2-1 at No. 6) and 13-9 in doubles (12-7 at No. 3).
Ben: Explain to us your athletic career growing up until today. How did you get to where you are as a college athlete?
Riley: I started playing tennis when I was about 12 and I didn’t expect much. But I ended up being pretty good and winning all of my tournaments for my age group. I made the varsity tennis team in high school as a freshman. So that is when I decided I wanted to dedicate the next four years really buckling down and practicing a lot. I got to where I am today by practicing night and day with my tennis pro Bo. I really owe it all to him!
Ben: Can you please give us some insight on your mental health experiences?
Riley: I’ve had OCD pretty much my whole life and it got worse when I got to college. I had to go home on medical leave the past semester because it was starting to get out of hand. I was having 2-3 panic attacks a day, not eating or sleeping.
Ben: How has your mental health journey impacted you as a college athlete?
Riley: I’ve had to stop playing some of my matches because my anxiety got so bad.
Ben: How do you think we can become more aware as a society about disorders like OCD and stop the stereotypes?
Riley: I think as more and more people talk about it, it will become more known that OCD is real. People usually just assume OCD is just being overly neat. OCD affects people in so many ways. I think more people need to be open to the fact that mental illnesses are real and people with mental illnesses NEED to be heard.
Ben: Do you have any advice for people who are dealing with these disorders right now?
Riley: My biggest piece of advice to anyone who is struggling with a mental illness is to not give up, EVER. No matter how hard it gets or may seem. Make sure to call someone you trust if you ever feel like life is getting too much. If you have a mental illness it does not mean you are weird or a freak. It is just like any other illness and needs to be addressed. I thought my parents wouldn’t understand and they were the most understanding people through all the doctors appointments and sleepless nights.
Ben: What do you think schools and coaches could do to address this issue more?
Riley: I think they should be more understanding of the mental health issues. Maybe take some classes on how to address it with a student/athlete they might think is struggling with it. They should definitely hire more psychiatrists on college campuses.
Ben: Why do you think it is so hard for athletes to open up and talk with their coaches and teammates about what they are going through?
Riley: They don’t want their teammates and/or coach think they can’t handle tough competition or situations. Sometimes you don’t even know how to put into words what you’re feeling or if they would even understand.