Minds in Motion A new club created by four student-athletes out of necessity, focused on mental health.

By Joe Arruda

Blake Arena is packed.

The student-spectators had decided to unite under clothing of a similar black color. They sit, shoulder-to-shoulder on the wooden bleachers, and then they stand and jump around to cheer for a shot that went their way, or complain to the ref after a call that didn’t.

It’s all fun and games.

After the final buzzer, students rise simultaneously and climb down from their perch, searching for their friends amidst the masses. They reconvene and figure out their plans for the night.

It was a tough week for most of them, as most are in college – loaded with assignments, practices, time spent at internships or involvement with clubs. The weekend is a time to release some of that stress. A time for students to feel accomplished, relieved and enjoy themselves.

Smiling as they talk, the mass moving down the ramp towards the P.E. Complex doors was composed of excitement and celebration. They’d have time to enjoy with friends, to push to the side whatever was burdening them.

And they continue smiling as they disperse, taking their own paths around campus. They smile as they pass by people on the sidewalk, friends or complete strangers. Springfield students say “Hello” and hold doors for anyone in the vicinity. They walk past thousands of triangles, reminding them of the “Spirit, Mind and Body” refrain they’d heard from NSO and every day since.

It is a happy place. At least, it seems.

Those smiles, for many, mask the demons they are battling at that particular moment. A rough grade on an exam, a bad practice, loneliness, missing home, struggling to get through the day – whatever it may be, someone is dealing with it.

Now, that natural mask in the form of a smile has been reinforced by its physical form of a cloth covering.

A group of four student-athletes realized, and were surprised by, the fact that there was no club on campus set to address these issues. The Counseling Center is a great place for students who want or need to seek professional help, but on a campus built on community, peer support is important as well.

“I was looking to join a club like it and I honestly assumed Springfield had a club like that because you hear, ‘Spirit, mind, body’ so I just assumed that they did,” Abby Murdock, a senior on the women’s cross country team, said.

There was a club, Active Minds, that focused on mental health in a similar manner, but that club was dissolved in recent years.

Murdock and her teammate, Aly Coyle, decided they wanted to bring a club of that sort back. Before the pandemic, they approached the Counseling Center and pitched the idea. But when the pandemic hit, the club – like many other things – was put on hold.

“(Brian Krylowicz, the Director of the Counseling Center) told us that he would be willing to help us start something up in the fall,” Coyle said.

And “Minds in Motion SC” was created.

“When we got here in September we kind of got the ball rolling and we got Isaiah Cashwell-Doe and Cam Borges on board. From there, it kind of just went off and we’re glad with the outcome so far,” Coyle added.

Coyle along with Murdock, Borges and Cashwell-Doe came together through their separate struggles with mental health. Two cross-country runners and two football players; a star running back and an extroverted offensive lineman and two diminutive runners.

They couldn’t be any more different.

But they found a common goal of helping others.

“We don’t look at it like, I’m a football player, you’re on cross country – we look at it as these are my peers, these are my friends,” Cashwell-Doe said. “We all have that same goal: to encourage and educate people on this campus, mostly students, to know about mental health, to know how serious it really is.”

After Borges graduated from LaSalle Academy in Rhode Island, he decided to continue playing football in a post-graduate year at The Hotchkiss School in Connecticut – but he wound up getting hurt in his first game.

He broke the bottom of his ulna, the forearm bones were forced up into his hand, tearing all of the ligaments. The two-inch scar on his right wrist is what’s left to show for his six surgeries. He finished out the year and then decided on Springfield. On the third or fourth day of preseason in 2019, he went down again – this time it was a labrum tear in his hip.

“For the first time in my life, I finally checked out,” he said. “And I was never that guy – I was always the guy that was like, ‘Hey, let’s go team’ you know, try to be the best leader you can be, it doesn’t matter if you’re hurt or not. Me – I just checked out. I did everything that I told myself not to do.”

He remembers being in a “toxic place”– the people he hung out with weren’t right and he wasn’t making the best choices for himself. He found his teammates to be people he could talk to. At first, he didn’t want to be a bother as they were doing their own things and he didn’t necessarily want to keep them in his “drama.”

Borges soon realized that he needed more help.

He did what many people are too nervous to do. He sought help from the Counseling Center. It was time to buy in.

Several years earlier, in a Pembroke, Mass. middle school, Coyle was dealing with an eating disorder. She compared herself to people around her, what they ate and what they looked like. Eventually she began restricting her diet – until her parents started to realize what was going on.

She ended up in a treatment program.

“I’d say the biggest thing it taught me was just to be your own person and realize that everyone looks different,” she said. “Everyone’s gonna do different things, not everyone’s gonna like what you do, but you just really have to make yourself happy and find the areas within yourself that you like and that you can grow in.”

Later, not too far away on the north shore, Cashwell-Doe had transferred to a private school outside of Boston through the Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity program (METCO).

Around the time of his junior year in high school, the social butterfly was dealing with depression and suicidal thoughts.

“I was lost,” he said. “People had a lot of money and I didn’t have any money, so I was just trying to fit in.

“I was trying to accomodate for other people’s approval, I guess, and I wasn’t really worrying about myself which was kind of my downfall.”

His downfall led him down an almost tragic path.

“Around junior year of high school I had tried to hurt myself probably like three times and gladly, it failed,” he said. “I’m happy I didn’t go through with it, I’m happy I’m here today to actually speak about those experiences and help other people. But that was just a bad place that I was in for two to three years.”

In October 2019, Springfield Athletics welcomed Victoria Garrick to Blake Arena to speak to hundreds of student-athletes. Garrick, a former Division I volleyball player at USC, has become a leader in mental health and body-image advocacy.

Her words went up into the air, and on the way down they landed deeply in the hearts of several Springfield student-athletes who thought they’d been there just to hear about “THE Jersey” once more.

Murdock said, “She’s just an inspiration to me and the inspiration behind our club, really.”

On Feb. 17, 2021, the Club featured Garrick as a special guest.

“She really normalized (seeking counseling). She just said, ‘This was part of my journey and it was the most important part of my journey – being a student-athlete was secondary, I had to take care of myself,’” Lauren Gray, the club’s adviser and a counselor at the Center, said.

Mental health and athletics have a complicated relationship. Though the club is open to all students, it might not have been a coincidence that its founders happen to be a group of athletes.

On the Springfield College campus, athletes find themselves in leadership roles more often than not.

“What they’re offering is this understanding of, ‘Let’s destigmatize mental health and let’s really gather as a community and talk about some really difficult topics and support one another within those topics,’” Gray noted.

Providing a space for peer-to-peer support allows students to not only have friends to confide in, but teaches them to provide that support to others who may be struggling.

The stigma that can be perpetuated through athletics often provides a road block for young people to seek help. They can easily get caught up in the toxicity of the “tough guy,” “man up” mentality or the need for an elegant “runner’s body.”

There is evidence that sports like gymnastics, dance, long distance running or even wrestling – sports where the body is uncovered from any sort of equipment – have a high risk of athletes developing eating disorders.

“Just that pressure from the culture of the sport really gets to some people and it’s really unfortunate. Hopefully once more people start talking about it, we can shift the culture around it,” Coyle said.

Athletics can also be beneficial by providing a team of support and establishing leadership traits. For the most part, when students decide to continue their sport in college, it is because they genuinely enjoy it, or find peace while doing it.

“Sports create a little sanctuary for people. It creates a little safe place to – whatever is going on in their day – for those two hours on the field, nothing else matters. I think a lot of people kind of live for that, where they can be on the field with some of their best friends, some of their favorite coaches, and just worry about the sport that they love,” Cashwell-Doe said.

But no matter how much love is there, the pressure can be damaging.

Murdock said, “I have been stuck in places where my performance is kind of based on my self-worth and I think that is a tricky situation that a lot of athletes find themselves in.”

For many athletes, their sport becomes their identity. In the last year that identity was removed by the pandemic.

“What do you want to do?”

“What do you want to accomplish?”

“Are you going to sit there in your room every day or are you gonna go do something different?”

Borges asked himself these questions.

“I have football for four more years. My identity as a 20 year old man is that I’ve been a football player since I was 6 years old. At some point there is going to be no identity of being a football player so what are you going to do about it?” he said.

“And that’s why I really tried to take the initiative and do different things outside of football, because that’s who I want to be. I can take the qualities from football such as being a leader, such as being a team player, working hard, those kinds of things, but put them into other categories.”

The time isolated and alone led to a rapid decrease in mental health around the world, but also provided an opportunity for self-reflection and growth.

“It was hard.” Cashwell-Doe said. “But it allowed me to really understand me… I thought I loved myself until I was stuck with me for that long. You figure out you more, you figure out how to help people.”

Cashwell-Doe worked in a hospital during the pandemic and underwent a tragic, eye-opening experience. While working with older veterans who suffered from dementia, he saw the amount of patients on the floor decrease rapidly.

He found an increased appreciation for the people in his life, noting that many patients didn’t get any visitors.

“I had never worked with people who died next to me. Mentally, I would say it made me a little stronger. It made me appreciate life a lot more because I think growing up and coming to Springfield – I’m not saying everyone is selfish – but a lot of times we’re not appreciative of what we have,” he said.

Battling with mental health doesn’t just last one round, and there are no knockouts. But significant progress can be made through self-reflection and releasing pressure by confronting the issue with the help of a counselor or even peers.

About 15 percent of the student body at Springfield College has recognized their personal demons and decided to confront them with professional assistance from the Counseling Center. However, according to a survey conducted from the Center for Collegiate Mental Health (the latest conducted in 2017), nearly three out of five students have experienced a sense of “overwhelming anxiety” at some time. And a large percentage will experience some element of depression throughout their young adulthood.

“A lot of people have their own demons and a lot of people don’t know how to control it. They don’t know how to ask for that type of help, they don’t know how to handle it really. I think our club is crucial on campus just for the sake of providing those resources, we provide information – not even only from us, we have guest speakers who’ve struggled,” Cashwell-Doe said.

Being in a college environment – learning to support oneself without the direct help from parents or guardians while also trying to manage an increased schoolwork load and make a whole new group of friends – can be extremely overwhelming and trigger mental health issues that one may not have known they had.

“This is the first time you don’t have mommy and daddy. You’re supposed to be so mature and you’re acting like you’re an adult,” Borges said.

Knowing that students may not be comfortable seeking help from professionals, the peer group has learned how to create a comfortable space for allyship.

Borges continued, “I think it’s so important that you have others who are going through similar aspects but just being real about it. It’s okay to be open about these things because guess what? At the end of the day it’s going to make you better at what you want to do. When you’re emotionally feeling good about yourself, you’re gonna find your way in places that you’ve never seen before.”

Though the club was formed by four athletes, they recognize that regular students are dealing with the same stressors that come along with college without having that team dynamic to fall back on.

When many students arrive for the first day of New Student Orientation, they already have a group of individuals they are familiar with from recruiting trips, summer preseason and other connections through their sport. But others who aren’t guided to a group of friends are left alone, trying to make their own path.

Thirty-three percent of the Springfield College student body is composed of student-athletes, according to the school’s website. Walking around campus, it feels as though just about everyone is on a sports team. There are the identifiers on the backpacks, the hoodies, the sweatpants or the hats – really any surface that would be deemed acceptable as merchandise.

“It must be really hard being a student on campus and not being an athlete, seeing everybody being an athlete,” Borges said. “That’s probably not easy, as well as being a voice for athletes saying it’s okay to be open about it.”

Springfield is a “happy community” – at least on the outside. In its pre-pandemic days, one would be able to walk down the sidewalk, avoiding the grass, and receive a cordial smile from just about anyone who crossed their path.

For some, that smile is awkward. They aren’t as extroverted as most of the campus may seem. For others, that smile is a cover, a happy mask to hide their own inner demons and insecurities.

“People always have stuff going on and we want people to know that it’s okay not to be okay,” Coyle said. “It’s okay to let your feelings out and not be all smiley and happy every day like the people you see around here.

“Our goal is to uplift people and make them realize that they matter and their emotions are valid.”

One day, the smiles will return – uncovered – to the faces of Springfield College students. Though they may still be hiding demons, the peer-to-peer relationships will still be there, ready for battle.

The world post-COVID will take some getting used to. There will still be uncertainty and many things will remain out of one's hands, but the appreciation of the little things will take utmost importance. Whether it be the ability to watch a football game on Stagg, a basketball game in Blake Arena or a theatre performance in Fuller, Springfield College will be alive again.

Springfield College will smile again.

Created By
Joe Arruda