Athletes take on ‘The Hidden Opponent’

In 2019 Victoria Garrick Browne, a former Division I women’s volleyball player for the University of Southern California, founded The Hidden Opponent (THO), a national nonprofit organization dedicated to raising awareness for student-athlete mental health and addressing the stigma within sports culture. 

The organization has over 800 student ambassadors, “Campus Captains,” in over 500 campuses nationally and abroad. One of the campuses with a THO organization implemented is right here at California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB), led by Campus Captains and volleyball players Jackie Wahl and Kalia Uota. 

They both were fans of Browne before she started the organization and when she opened it, Uota was the first one interested in creating a new chapter at CSUMB. The volleyball Head Coach Courtney Materazzi encouraged her to apply to become a Campus Captain for the university. When Uota started the chapter, Wahl was interested and joined and became a Campus Captain shortly after.

THO has been at CSUMB for two years, with Uota and Wahl leading the way. They both believe that the mission of THO is vital as it allows them to raise awareness better and destigmatize mental health within the athletics department at the university.

“It’s super important because I think getting out there that there’s a resource for mental health for athletes is good to spread awareness about it. The ultimate goal is to destigmatize mental health and opening up a chapter here is good for our athletic department and the whole school,” said Wahl.

“We thought it would be best to start a chapter to bring more resources to campus. There was interest from people on other teams that also saw the importance of mental health awareness. It was the main reason we wanted to bring a full chapter to our campus,” said Uota.

Mental health is vital to Wahl and Uota as they both have struggled with their own mental health issues as student-athletes. Through THO, they have been able to learn more about their mental health and have connected with other student-athletes who have gone through the same issues as they have. 

“I have struggled with mental health in my sport, specifically performance anxiety. It is like an unspoken elephant in the room that so many people struggle with,” said Wahl. “I would always feel kind of weird and apart from my teammates and it didn’t feel like it was normal, but as I discovered THO, I realized that it was very common. I think talking about it and having available resources will help so many people realize that you’re not alone.”

They want student-athletes to know that there are essential readily available resources they can access if they are struggling with mental health-related issues. However, they acknowledge that it is difficult for most people to reach out for help for various reasons. They believe destigmatizing mental health in athletics can help alleviate that problem if people view student-athletes as more. 

“As an athlete, you’re kind of told to push through in a way, regardless of how anything makes you feel, and because mental health isn’t something that you can see, a lot of coaches and people overlook its importance,” said Uota. “At the end of the day, people and coaches need to realize that athletes are human too. It’s OK to rely on people and ask for and seek help.”

If you are interested in joining or want more information about the THO chapter at CSUMB, follow @tho_csumb on Instagram and The Hidden Opponent @ CSUMB on MyRaft for more information about resources available in the Monterey Bay area.

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