Being injured as a college athlete isn’t just painful. It can lead to severe emotional distress. Jenn Bartlett G’22 and Kelsie Schwager G’22 learned this as members of the decorated Saint Rose women’s soccer team, as they were each sidelined by torn anterior cruciate ligaments (ACLs) and faced lengthy recovery periods. This led to feelings of isolation from their teammates and their frustration over lost months spent on the sidelines, causing both a physical and mental burden.
“Mental health isn’t really talked about that much in terms of athletics,” said Schwager, who went on to recover from her injury. “When you have an injury and can’t play, nobody on the team understands or knows what you go through unless they’ve suffered from the same injury or experience. We wanted a place where students can anonymously talk to each other and connect with each other without having to worry about getting the NCAA or coaches involved.”
Moved by their mental health struggles, Bartlett and Schwager, who each earned a master’s degree in computer science while at the College and are both employed in the software engineering track with United Health Group, used their coding skills to go from teammates to business partners with the launch of tellsweat.com (Students Working to End Athletic Trauma), a website they created to provide anonymous, peer-to-peer interactions so student-athletes can instantly connect with one another and find emotional support when they need it.
“Oftentimes an injury can be debilitating to your mental health, having to not only deal with the physical pain and recovery, but the emotional pain that comes along with it,” said Lori Anctil, associate vice president of athletics at Saint Rose.
With suicides among student-athletes on the rise, Bartlett, who also went on to recover from her ACL injury, sees their site filling a void that’s not being addressed on most college campuses.
“There’s a big lack of mental health support for athletes,” she stated. “It’s pretty much nonexistent. If you have a problem and you bring it up, nothing’s really done about it. With our site, students have someone to talk to that knows what they’ve been through.”
“I am so proud of Jenn and Kelsie for their work to bring awareness to student-athletes’ mental health,” Anctil said. “They are using their voices and their platform to create a safe space and make a difference for all of us as we’re continuing to understand and support student-athlete mental wellness.”
On tellsweat, students can use the filter feature to find other users with the same or similar issues. They will also find links and phone numbers to a variety of mental health resources.
Bartlett and Schwager are still dedicated athletes. Despite managing the after effects of two knee surgeries plus arthritis, Bartlett has continued training and plans to participate in a local summer league. Schwager is currently rehabilitating a meniscus tear while looking forward to the possibility of competing abroad with a European team.
Bartlett moved back home to Cave Creek, Arizona, while Schwager stayed in Albany. Both are employed with United Health Group, working in the software engineering track’s Technology Development Program (TDP). Despite living on opposite coasts, they plan to continue their partnership by creating an app version of their website for both iPhone and Android platforms so it’s accessible to more students, with an eye toward monetizing the site to fund college scholarships.