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Morgan’s Message

Bluffton, South Carolina

February 26, 2022

Ouch. This story hurts. Emotional issues are hard Because unlike a physical injury, we often cannot see manifestation of the injury. There is so much shame and feelings of not being good enough that go along with anxiety and depression. Because still in our society you should just tough it out and get out of your head. Not helpful.

Kudos to the kids at UVa for creating an awareness of emotional health issues.

Morgan was a beloved daughter, sister, friend, and teammate. A tenacious individual, she gave 100% of herself to every passion, project, and person she encountered. In the classroom, Morgan was a bright student with limitless curiosity; on the field, a talented athlete with relentless drive; in her sketchbook, a gifted artist with keen attention to detail; and in all spaces, a fiercely loyal friend. It is this depth of character that provided encouragement and inspiration to so many, but it was her contagious laugh and infectious energy that embody Morgan’s irreplaceability. If music was playing, she was dancing-- and bringing everyone to the dance floor with her.
As an underclassman in high school, several high-caliber programs began recruiting Morgan to play Division I Women’s Lacrosse. Morgan knew she wanted to play at the highest level the sport could offer while earning a world-class education. Her dream came true in the fall of 2014 when she accepted an offer to play for the Duke University Women’s Lacrosse Team. Still, her vibrant personality and daily life included a reality less visible to the outside world. During her senior year, Morgan began to experience high levels of anxiety; however, she received tremendous support and professional help that proved beneficial at that time. Despite the challenges in her life, never had Morgan been so optimistic about her future as a Blue Devil. She was eager and well-equipped for a successful college experience.

In January of 2017, just before the beginning of her sophomore season, Morgan endured a dream-shattering knee injury. She spent the next 12 months determined to return to the field, undergoing surgery and dedicating herself to an intensive rehabilitation program. Morgan struggled with this abrupt change because she felt she had lost control within her life. As a result, Morgan’s self-worth plummeted. While she presented a strong, happy, and resilient face to her community, she grappled with feeling that she was not living up to her expectations. Her feelings of isolation from the team and stress caused by other relationship issues accelerated the return of anxiety and depression. This time, Morgan chose to suffer in silence, keeping family and friends in the dark as she battled her mental health.

As a result, Morgan died by suicide in July of 2019 at the age of 22.

Although her life was cut way too short, Morgan’s legacy of unconditional love remains. Her energy empowers those she has left behind to transform devastation into action. We elevate her story to provide a platform where others feel safe to share their own, be a catalyst for change within our mental healthcare systems, and foster a community for which tomorrow always exists. Morgan’s Message is clear: as an athlete, there is no shame in seeking physical healthcare-- the same should be true for mental healthcare. In order to close the gap, we must eliminate the stigma surrounding mental health together.

Recovery is possible-- let’s take a shot.

From the Cavalier Daily:

Student-athletes organize the Virginia chapter of Morgan’s Message, a mental health advocacy organization

How student-athletes are “taking a shot at mental health”

Before her sophomore year, Duke lacrosse player Morgan Rodgers sustained a severe knee injury, placing her in a 12-month rehabilitation program. A culmination of stressors after the injury led to her life being gone too soon. Faced with feelings of isolation, anxiety and depression, Rodgers suffered in silence. In July of 2019, Rodgers died by suicide at 22 years old.

In response to Rodgers’ unexpected death, friends and family started Morgan’s Message, an organization devoted to eliminating the stigma around mental health, especially among student-athletes

Today, the Morgan’s Message Education Program can be found at 59 high schools and 80 colleges. The program currently has 245 ambassadors who advocate for student-athlete mental health on their campuses and in their communities.

In March of 2021, then-sophomore and junior field hockey players Adele Iacobucci and Greer Gill co-founded the U.Va. chapter of Morgan’s Message with the help of other U.Va. athletes. The two worked together to start the U.Va. Morgan’s Message Instagram. While the co-founders were familiar with Morgan’s Message from athlete circles at other schools, both had their own personal stakes for getting involved with the chapter at U.Va.

Gill was familiar with Morgan’s Message because her sister, former Duke field hockey player Ainsley Gill, played club lacrosse with Rodgers. After Gill’s sister reached out to her about getting involved, Gill knew she would enjoy being a part of the organization and signed up to become an ambassador in the fall of 2020. As friends, roommates and teammates, Iacobucci was inspired by Gill, and she considered her own experience with mental health in and outside of sports and applied to be an ambassador soon after.

This past semester, Iacobucci and Gill reached out to friends on different sports teams at Virginia, showed others how to apply to become an ambassador and held brief meetings and events to foster community and conversation with the chapter’s representatives.

“We want this to be a community of people who can hang out without anything being forced or stressful,” Iacobucci said. “We want this to be a place where people can be real about mental health.”

Morgan’s Message at U.Va. currently has seven ambassadors and over 25 representatives, and Gill hopes Morgan’s Message can inspire a sense of empowerment in athletes to initiate meetings with coaches and schedule individual or team appointments with the athletic department’s sports psychologists. While U.Va. only has two sports psychologists for all 750 athletes, smaller schools and programs don’t have any at all. In addition to reaching out to other sports teams, Iacobucci and Gill worked with the entire field hockey team to dedicate their March 21 game against James Madison to Morgan’s Message. Both Virginia and James Madison ambassadors and representatives wore Morgan’s Message t-shirts, and both teams put Morgan’s Message stickers on their sticks and tied blue ribbons to their shoelaces as a symbol of mental health awareness. Rodgers’ parents attended the game, and at half time a video made by both teams about mental health awareness was shown and a moment of silence was held for Rodgers. Following the game, two James Madison players became ambassadors for Morgan’s Message. These James Madison players joined two of their teammates who were already Morgan’s Message members before the game.

“This organization spreads like crazy because of how interconnected the athlete world is,” Gill said.

Sophomore squash player Myles McIntyre was an integral part of initiating events like the James Madison dedication game for U.Va. Morgan’s Message. McIntyre became involved with Morgan’s Message after a conversation with Gill on Instagram in the winter of 2020, but he soon realized another connection he had with Morgan’s Message.

“My advisor in high school’s daughter, Maddie Crutchfield, played on Morgan’s team at Duke,” McIntyre said. “It all came together for me — this would be a really cool organization to be a part of. Everybody in the athletic world struggles at one point or another with some form of mental health like anxiety or nerves.”

This past semester, McIntyre took on the role of organizing community events, talked with teammates about dedicating a future match to Morgan’s Message and met with football Coach Bronco Mendenhall about dedicating a football game to mental health awareness next season. Junior lacrosse player Ella Reaves Vaughan also got involved after hearing about Morgan’s Message from Iacobucci and Gill.

Along with four of her teammates, Vaughan is a co-ambassador for Morgan’s Message on women’s lacrosse. Vaughan has collaborated ways to bring Morgan’s Message and its mission to the program with team-building exercises and simple gestures like writing motivational messages for important games to boost team morale.

“As our team was preparing for the spring season while dealing with the reality of COVID-19, I believed becoming an ambassador and vowing to be an advocate to end the stigma around mental health would be beneficial to everyone on our team in a time as unique as this one has proven to be,” Vaughan said. “Personally, I believe this was a courageous step to take as an individual, as I was challenged to be completely vulnerable for the betterment of not only myself, but for my team and the entirety of the U.Va. athletics program, as student-athletes have been held to a higher standard throughout this year for the success of our sports programs — despite all that is going on in the world around us.” Within the women’s lacrosse program, Vaughan is optimistic that Morgan’s Message can help create a safe space to have authentic conversations about mental health and how it relates to performance on and off the field. Looking forward, Iacobucci and Gill mentioned potentially planning a 5k fundraiser and the goal to meet with Director of Athletics Carla Williams. However, despite enthusiasm from several athletes across sports as well as the support of coaches, Morgan’s Message at U.Va. faces one particular obstacle.

Because of NCAA Name Image and Likeness rules, the U.Va. chapter cannot raise money to support mental health awareness. Despite this challenge, student-athletes that work with Morgan’s Message like Iacobucci, Gill, McIntyre and Vaughan are channeling all their effort into fostering a community and safe space for discussions about mental health.

May 24 through May 30 marked Student-Athlete Mental Health Awareness Week, and May represents Mental Health Awareness Month. Look for more resources and information from U.Va. Morgan’s Message via Instagram @morgans_message_uva.

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