American football believes the champion of mental health and suicide prevention

It’s been less than a year since 15-year-old Lexi Bolinder lost her best friend to suicide. She still thinks of Sophie Wieland a lot, especially when she passes a box of her favorite things, but Bolinder knew she wanted to do more to honor her friend — and work to prevent similar tragedies from happening.

“When I lost my best friend to suicide this summer, I really didn’t know what to do next,” Bolinder said. But soon she found herself championing suicide prevention and mental health awareness, and volunteered with a new charity started by Sophie’s hockey coach, called Sophie’s Squad, which raises awareness about the importance of mental health issues with young athletes.

The St. Paul, Minnesota, teen said she was attracted to the call, and started working with the I’m Glad You Stayed Project, an Iowa-based nonprofit organization focused on teen mental health education. She also set up a club focusing on those issues in her high school.

“I’m really open with my story and how I’ve actually experienced high levels of anxiety throughout my life,” Bolinder said. “I think that’s one of the main things: It’s okay, it’s normal. … [Mental health] It’s stigmatized, but it’s something it shouldn’t be.”

In her spare time, Bolinder began making beaded bracelets depicted in Morse code, which have become a symbol of suicide prevention and mental health support. She said she raised over $1,000 for Sophie’s Squad by selling the $2 bracelets, and plans to continue doing so until the order runs out.

The bracelets are a reminder to continue or continue, that this is not the end.

“It’s a bit like the way the author uses it in a sentence,” Bolinder said. “And then it’s in Morse Code, so only you know what it means.”

For her important work, which comes at a time when teens are facing unprecedented mental health challenges and multiple suicides that rocked the world of women’s college sports this year, Bolender was honored this month as the 2022 SheBelieves Hero, the NFL award given to the teen who is a leader in their community and work to make a positive change in the world.

US Soccer wrote in a statement: “Polinder is a strong advocate for mental health awareness and suicide prevention.” SheBelieves is a movement created to inspire and encourage girls and women of all ages to achieve their goals and dreams beyond.”

As a lifelong soccer player and cheerleader for the US women’s team, Bolinder said she was thrilled — and shocked — to be named SheBelieves Hero this year, an award that includes travel and two VIP tickets at a USWNT game this summer.

“I grew up watching the women’s national team,” Bolinder said. “I have always dreamed of winning this award from an early age.” “This is crazy. I did not expect to receive an email saying that you succeeded!”

Bolinder, who plays the goalkeeper on one club’s soccer team, said she hopes to meet one of her favorite players, goalkeeper Jane Campbell, on the VIP trip. She also liked to reconnect with defender Abby Dalkemper, a player she said she met years ago in her home state and who kept her autograph.

Although the concussions would prevent Bolinder from playing college football, she said she’s glad she can still enjoy the sport — which she used to play with Sophie — and continues to help other athletes remember to focus on their physical and mental health.

“The most important thing is not to burn yourself,” Bolinder said. “Make some time for yourself and understand that it’s okay to make mistakes, it’s okay to have a bad day. It’s not all over at once.”

Bolinder said she plans to expand her advocacy and hopes to pursue a career in mental health.

“It is very important to highlight some of these issues,” Bolinder said. “My favorite saying is hope: Wait, the pain is over. It’s really easy to keep in your mind. You give yourself the night, so you won’t be in an immediate crisis anymore. … When you come out of full crisis (the situation), you can have Help “.

The SheBelieves Hero Selection Committee is made up of former Women’s World Cup Olympians and Olympians Stephanie Cox, Leslie Osborne and Ceri Moulinex, who narrowed SheBelieves’ requests to five of this year’s finalists, including Bolinder. The audience was then asked to vote on the finalists, which helped determine the winner.

Grace Toohy is a contributing writer for Just Women’s Sports. She previously worked as a reporter for Orlando Sentinel and The Advocate (Baton Rouge), and wrote articles for The Marshall Project and other news outlets. Follow her on Twitter Tweet embed.

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