Family

How a sisterhood of badass women is redefining what it means to be a female athlete.

After her spine and spirit were shattered, Meghan Sekone-Fraser found redemption through a sisterhood of badass women.

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Paramount Pictures Ben Hur

When Meghan Sekone-Fraser's back was shattered in a car accident, her Olympic dreams shattered as well.

Meghan Sekone-Fraser was well on her way to becoming an Olympic rower. She admits she wasn't as tall or naturally powerful as her teammates, but she kept pushing forward and gained exceptional results.

Unfortunately, those exceptional results came at an exceptional price.


Meghan Sekone-Fraser had to reevaluate her life after enduring a devastating accident. Photo from Meghan Sekone-Fraser, used with permission.

"I struggled with overtraining, injury, body image issues, and eating disorders for the entire span of my 10-year rowing career," Sekone-Fraser told Upworthy. "But I was so focused on my goals that I didn’t see the damage being done."

Then, in 2011, her dreams of reaching the London Olympics came crashing down when a car accident severely injured her back. She was in constant emotional and physical pain.

She was afraid she had lost everything.

So Sekone-Fraser changed her course. But she wasn't pleased with what she saw on her path.

Being an Olympic rower wasn't in the cards for Sekone-Fraser, but she wasn't ready to give up on her passion for athletics.

After months of searching, she discovered muay thai as a way to exercise and still exert her toughness.

Muay thai was a great release for Sekone-Fraser after her accident, but it wasn't all good. Photo from Ashley Kress Photography, used with permission.

But there was a problem.

"When I looked into the sea of women's activewear brands, I couldn't help but notice that I am not represented by the current brands and they did not want to be represented by me," she said. "I'm not a yogi, I don't meditate, I don't like green smoothies, and I am definitely not a size four."

She wasn't interested in brands telling her what kind of lifestyle — or body type — she should be striving for. She was looking for something that said, "Right now, in this very moment, you are powerful. You are a fighter."

And just like in her rowing days, she felt she would never fit in — until her husband stumbled upon Society Nine, an apparel company that focuses on women in combat sports.

Once he found Society Nine, Sekone-Fraser instantly knew this was the answer she was looking for. And not just because of the clothes.

"When I saw their manifesto video, I cried," she said. "After seeing images of women of all shapes, sizes, and colors kicking ass, I saw myself in the brand and knew that Society Nine had the ability to really make an impact and shift the way women view themselves."

It meant there were other women like her. Women like Maria Khwaja, a Muslim-American woman battling intolerance. Women like Mildred Apenyo, who fights for women's right to enjoy to their own space without being catcalled or harassed by men.

Powerful women who weren't backing down from major obstacles.

Meet a few of the diverse women of Society Nine. Photo from Society Nine, used with permission.

This kind of message isn't just one brand. It's a movement, with other companies like Machina Boxing and Kali Active getting onboard, too.

Lynn Le, the founder of Society Nine, thinks it's a good thing.

"Women have been told by society to bite our tongues, dress appropriately, look good in a bikini, be an amazing cook, have killer careers, and be amazing daughters and wives," she said. "We fight because we had to fight against the tide of expectations forever. It's time for women to define power on our own terms."

Lynn Le is very passionate about her mission. Photo from Society Nine, used with permission.

Sekone-Fraser fights, still, to repair her fractured relationship with her body. Being part of a new generation of warrior women is just the ammo she needs.

"As a rower, my abilities were defined by what I saw in the mirror," Sekone-Fraser said. "In this new chapter of my life, what I saw in the mirror was defined by my abilities. That shift in my mind was one of the most empowering things that's ever happened in my life."

Sekone-Fraser (seen here with her husband) is all smiles now that she's true to who she is. Photo from Ashley Kress Photography, used with permission.

"It took me 30 years to begin disrupting my internal dialogue of self-doubt and negativity," she admits. "That's a long time to not embrace yourself."

Loving ourselves is something we should fight for every single day.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

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Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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