Tokyo Olympian Anna Cockrell Opens Up About Her Mental Health Struggles

Nikki Attkisson | Last Updated : August 2, 2021

Mental health is often ignored for physical health. Do we often assume that a physically fit person is overall healthy, but is it really the case? Such is the story of Olympian Anna Cockrell, who is one among many athletes to open up about mental struggle. Her story gained spotlight after gymnast Simone Biles quit the team and refused to participate in the finals, for focusing on her mental health.

Cockrell graduated with her Master’s degree from the University of Southern California. In June, she won field titles and two NCAA track, and now she is all set to her first-ever Olympic Games, which she believes has become possible after she ran at the US Olympic Team Trials in June. She made it into the Dean’s List every semester, where students with a 3.5 GPA or higher are placed. As a sophomore, she became captain of the USC track and field team. 

Tokyo Olympian Anna Cockrell Opens Up About Her Mental Health Struggles

She has always been a golden girl on paper, but inside her own head, she could never agree with what the world thought. When she faced the cameras post-race, she was in tears. She told the media that she has worked really hard for this, and said she was depressed in 2019; so standing where she was, was more than she could take.

Hailing from Charlotte, North Carolina, Cockrell began her journey in athletics when she was just 12 years old. But she soon dropped out because of the demands and soon started trying out new and different things. She played basketball, rock climbed, and eventually thought of opting for the school track and field team in middle school. 

Tokyo Olympian Anna Cockrell Opens Up About Her Mental Health Struggles

She started hurdling and gradually everything worked out for her. She mastered three-stepping, which is a challenging technique where runners, to increase fluidity and speed over the hurdles, take only three strides between the barriers. 

She told USA TODAY Sports that for many hurdlers, three-stepping is hard but it was not hard for her. She said that whatever was so scary about three-stepping for other hurdlers, it wasn’t for her. Her coaches told her father when she was quite young that she was special, and she felt extraordinary when she was in high school and college. 

Cockrell competed in international meets and won gold medals at the 2015 Pan Am Games in 400 hurdles and U20 World Championship in 2016. But it wasn’t all happy for her. She began struggling with her mental health. When she was in her sophomore year of high school, she started experiencing early symptoms of depression. She consulted for therapy for months. However, her family made her come through every tough part of it until her college at USC.

She was 2,500 miles away from her family when during just her first week on campus she heard the news of her grandfather passing away unex[pectedly. She told the media that she didn’t want to seem weak. She said she was continuously struggling with what she should be, rather than what she was. She didn’t want to be seen as someone who was sitting in a corner and crying, because she was supposed to be strong and athletic. 

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Her life on the outside was thriving. She gained popularity and she was performing extraordinarily in her athletics and extracurriculars. During this time she stuffed her depression in a corner temporarily, because she thought that she couldn’t be sad when things were going this great. Soon after she realized that no outer victory will make her feel good if she was not feeling well from the inside. 

It was in her junior year that she reached her breaking point. Her coach realized something was off. Her coach and her thesis advisor helped her out and she finally began to heal during the pandemic. When she returned home in 2020, she met the same coach and rediscovered her love for the track. 

She competed for the 400 hurdles on July 30. Managing depression was a lifelong process, but she said she no longer seeks external validation. 

Nikki Attkisson

With over 15 years as a practicing journalist, Nikki Attkisson found herself at Powdersville Post now after working at several other publications. She is an award-winning journalist with an entrepreneurial spirit and worked as a journalist covering technology, innovation, environmental issues, politics, health etc. Nikki Attkisson has also worked on product development, content strategy, and editorial management for numerous media companies. She began her career at local news stations and worked as a reporter in national newspapers.

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