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Why We Shouldn't Speculate 'What Made Maddy Run'

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Editor’s note: If you experience suicidal thoughts or have lost someone to suicide, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

An excerpt for “What Made Maddy Run” was released earlier this week. The book was written by ESPN commentator and journalist Kate Fagan, who herself played collegiate basketball. The focus of the book is Madison Holleran, a young woman who died by suicide three and a half years ago, during her freshman year at the University of Pennsylvania. She has been lauded as an amazing athlete, student, daughter and person. She was many things to many people during her life. But in my opinion, we have now turned her into a book, without her permission, without her voice and full of our own assumptions of what she was going through and how she was facing the world and herself.

The elite running community, such as FloTrack and ESPN, have praised the book as a vital piece of preventing future suicide in collegiate athletes. While I can understand their point of view, and certainly understand the importance of discussing mental health in collegiate athletes, I am struggling to come to terms with the fact we are sharing Maddy’s story without her voice. I believe it is not our place to hypothesize what happened to Madison Holleran. I believe it is only our place to reflect on how she impacted our own lives, and to share our own stories of mental illness in elite athletics.

I am a division one runner, similar to Holleran in a myriad of ways: driven, talented, a perfectionist. She died by suicide when I was a junior in high school. Six weeks prior, I had quit track and field. During a prestigious race in December of my junior year, I ran off the track and disqualified myself halfway through. I promptly quit running, both as an activity and as a sport. Despite my coaches’ pleas to try again at the next race, I could not move my legs another day.

I had battled depression since the previous May, and the line between running as therapeutic and running as a trigger for my perfectionistic tendencies had slowly blurred in that time. The building pressure of the sport and getting recruited to run in college had forced me to loath every minute of it and myself and ultimately led me to end my junior season, and almost my life.

Even weeks after my last race, I felt the reverberations of the sport and the expectations I was no longer meeting. I planned to kill myself. Instead of carrying out my plan, I drove to a good friend’s house, and fell into her arms until I was too exhausted to die. I called my therapist. I woke up the next day. I lived.

By the time Madison Holleran died, I was going to therapy twice a week and was finally starting to believe I was allowed to be alive, regardless of how fast I was running or if I even wanted to. I was still taking time off from the sport, and it felt like the biggest weight off my shoulders. Although running was not the precipitant of my sadness, the pressures around it, in addition to school, made me feel like I was cracking.

Despite wading into a version of recovery, the first newspaper report that came in about Madison rocked my world. I felt I had been there — I had been in the place she was. I could have been Madison Holleran. It seemed so reflective of the place I had been in for months, and it crushed me to know I had been there, and to know she was no longer here.

I never knew Madison. I don’t know what made her run. I don’t know what made her stop. I just know I was in that place with her, and I can tell my story, but I cannot tell hers. I think that ESPN wants to do something good, but I believe they are failing us. I believe Kate Fagan is putting her words in Madison Holleran’s mouth, and as someone who has a story to tell, I wouldn’t want anyone else telling it for me. There are division one athletes who face mental illness each day. There are people living, ready to tell their stories, to face hope and sadness and the future of mental health in elite athletics.

Madison Holleran helped save my life, but I don’t think we should have written a book about her. I believe this is not our story to tell. No one knows what made Maddy run, and we shouldn’t guess at it. Instead, we should ask athletes who have been there to speak up, provide them a platform to speak out and support them every step of their collegiate journey and beyond.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Photo via In Memory of Madison Holleran Facebook page.

Originally published: August 7, 2017
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