Published by: Holly Ruvo
Interviewed by: Ben Ruvo
Originally from Centreville, Maryland, Clare Ingersoll played Field Hockey at Washington College and had an extremely successful career. In 2018, she started 17 of 18 games. She tied for second in team goals (4), assists (2) and points (10). Ingersoll was a 2x Goose Nation TV Shorewomen Player of the Game, 3x Centennial Conference Academic Honor Roll (2016, 2017, 2018), 3x NFHCA National Academic Squad (2016, 2017, 2018), 2018 Centennial Conference All-Sportsmanship Team, and 2019 Iron Goose Award. Post graduation, she returned to her Alma Mater and is currently one of the college’s Athletic Trainers.
Ben: How has your athletic career been shaped since you were a kid until now?
Clare: I always struggled with self confidence and worrying about what other people thought about me as an athlete. Especially around late middle school and into high school I was always overthinking things. It definitely affected my game and made me a more hesitant player. Of course there were always days that were worse than others physically and emotionally. It wasn’t until after I came to Washington College and got comfortable on the team that I was finally able to play my best. I stopped comparing myself to everyone else and then everything seemed to click into place.
Ben: So you said that some days were worse than others, when the days were worse how were you able to compete and pull yourself out of that mental state?
Clare: On tougher days I had to lean on my teammates a little more, I’ve never felt more love than when I was out on the field with them. Some days I didn’t think I would be able to get out of bed, let alone make it through the day, but I knew all of my teammates were right there with me. Breathing was a key factor in my athletic successes. I tend to hold my breath when I don’t feel good mentally, and that makes everything worse. Therapy helped me become more aware of the times when I wasn’t breathing well, it’s unbelievable the difference it makes when you take 3 deep breaths.
Ben: Can you please give us some insight on your mental health experience?
Clare: Up until last year I thought I was just a very hyperaware person, I never really thought twice about the obsessive thoughts in my head or the worries I felt about everyday events. My eating habits have also always been affected by my emotions. My weight drops when I experience periods of heightened anxiety. After my junior year of college, I lost 20 pounds in a short period of time. That’s when I sought mental health counseling because I was tired of these weight fluctuations and not having any idea how to cope with my emotions. I’m embarrassed to say that I was a Psychology major and I was still hesitant to seek help. I still had a lot to learn about how therapy works and how to find the right fit with a counselor. I have been given useful tools to cope with anxiety, so now I go to therapy on and off as a refresher.
Ben: What is your advice for those who are hesitant to reach out for help?
Clare: It seems super scary to share your thoughts with someone else, but after the first time you open up, it gets better. I think seeking help is one of the bravest things you can do for yourself, and it is such a shame that there is so much stigma surrounding mental health. A healthy body is nothing without a healthy mind. Seeking help for my mental health is the best gift I have ever given myself, it is also one that I have never regretted.
Ben: How has your mental health journey impacted you as a college athlete and now trainer?
Clare: My senior year was my best athletic year, and I fully believe it was because I finally figure out how to read my emotions and how to get my mind right before practices and games. Naturally everyone feels some type of way before athletic competitions, but I would fixate on every little thing and end up sleeping poorly and not eating. I finally figured out how to be physically and mentally healthy, and it showed. Having a high emotional IQ helps me a lot as a sports performance coach. I know exactly how I am feeling before going to work each day, and I know how to get myself right so that it doesn’t affect anyone else. I interact with a high number of athletes everyday, and it wouldn’t be fair to them if I let my own issues get in the way of their training. At the same time, because I am self aware and unashamed (and because everyone has off days), I can be open with athletes about mental health. I hope that sharing my story will help other athletes come out of their shells and be more honest with themselves and with the people around them.
Ben: Do you have any advice for people who are dealing with these disorders right now?
Clare: Talk to someone! I think there is so much stigma surrounding mental illness, and this has kept me from sharing in the past because I always thought people would judge me. When I started to open up about the things I was feeling, the responses I got from others are really what pushed me to seek help. I also received so much support from the people around me, which made me feel so much more secure in my own mind. I am completely able to embrace the person I am, along with everything I carry with me, because of the incredible support system around me.
Ben: What do you think schools and coaches could do to address this issue more?
Clare: Definitely just encourage athletes to speak up. This also means providing a safe and educated environment to do so. I have been fortunate enough to be surrounded by coaches who have given me nothing but support, and it makes a difference. I wish that every college student could feel this sense of comfort in their own skin, I think that would make it easier to speak openly about mental health.
Ben: What does mental health awareness for athletes mean to you?
Clare: Being aware of how they are feeling inside their heads just as much as how their bodies are feeling. We put so much value into being physically healthy, often forgetting that if our minds aren’t right, there’s no way our bodies can function optimally. Being self aware and able to read your emotions is a powerful tool.