TU gymnast Olivia Lubarsky is helping student-athletes understand their mental health
Growing up in Santa Monica, California, Towson University gymnast Olivia Lubarsky always saw herself going to a school on the East Coast.
She was more willing to accept the challenge of moving across the country after attending a Towson University gymnastics’ summer camp before junior year of high school. After meeting with the coaches and seeing the campus, she realized that TU was the place she wanted to be.
After a little more research, Lubarsky was ready to be a Tiger.
“I visited other schools, and every time I kept coming back to my parents and saying ‘nothing compares to Towson,’” Lubarsky says. “Committing here has really been a dream come true.”
Moving to Maryland has brought a lot of firsts for Lubarsky, including her first experience with snow and seeing her first deer, which aren’t exactly common in southern California.
But as her first year at TU continued, she found herself becoming more and more homesick—even calling her mom four times a day. It got to the point where the lifelong gymnast didn’t even want to compete with her team.
Turns out it wasn’t as much about being homesick as it was something much more serious—Lubarsky struggles with depression and anxiety.
“Initially, I would scold myself for feeling the way I did, believing that I was ‘doing it to myself,’ or making up excuses for why I was not succeeding at the unrealistic expectations I set for myself,” Lubarsky says. “It took months of researching the science behind mental health illnesses until I believed that depression is something that happens to you, not something that you ‘just make up.’”
After sitting out her freshman year to focus on her mental health, Lubarsky was finally ready to compete during her sophomore year. But right before the season started, she suffered another setback: a ruptured Achilles tendon.
While recovering from the injury, Lubarsky realized something—while athletes have access to amazing resources for healing physical injuries, there is a lack in the support for the injuries, illnesses and struggles they face mentally and emotionally.
That’s why she partnered with Towson University’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) to create the “Own Your Roar” initiative, an awareness campaign that brings light to mental health issues that affect student-athletes.
“Although I still face struggles, I have learned how to compartmentalize the craziness of my life and truly enjoy the moment,” Lubarsky says. “I’ve learned to own myself, and I hope that through this campaign other students and student-athletes will recognize that they are not alone. They are capable and worthy.”
Before presenting the idea to SAAC, Lubarsky met with Tricia Brandenburg, deputy director of Towson University Athletics and staff adviser to SAAC. After meeting with Lubarsky, Brandenburg was impressed with her initiative and her passion.
“It has been great seeing Olivia develop and implement her campaign,” Brandenburg says. “Peers, coaches and administrators recognize her passion and the positive influence she’s having within the department and on a bigger stage related to mental health."
After successfully rolling out “Own Your Roar,” Towson University gained attention from the “We’re All A Little Crazy” Global Mental Health Alliance, a nonprofit focusing on mental health by sharing the stories of athletes, musicians, artists and media talent.
The organization chose TU as one of its stops for the #Same Here, Sit-Downs mental health tour.
The event took place last September and featured former ESPN reporter Darren Rovell, Baltimore Ravens tight end Hayden Hurst and Atlanta Dream forward Imani McGee-Stafford. The three also participated in panel that featured “We’re All a Little Crazy” CEO Eric Kussin and Lubarsky herself.
“I was a wreck before the event because I was so nervous,” Lubarsky laughs. “But looking around during the event and seeing so many people engaged, it was incredible. After the event, I had a lot of student-athletes coming up and thanking me, and I still don’t know why they are doing that.”
But Brandenburg has no difficulty understanding. She believes that in order to break down walls and build a new culture around mental healthcare, it must be led by student-athletes, especially one like Lubarsky.
Her passion and dedication propelled her to the 2018–19 SAAC presidency.
“Olivia’s confidence and willingness to share her story has had a profound impact on her fellow student-athletes,” Brandenburg says. “They also recognized her innate leadership capabilities and instilled their confidence in her and this project, by electing her president of SAAC.”
Lubarsky has continued to find other ways to support student-athlete mental health awareness across the country.
She’s working with “We’re All a Little Crazy” and its #Same Here Student Alliance. She’s also a member of the Mental Health America’s Collegiate Mental Health Innovation Council. She’s even met recently with an accounting firm to discuss turning “Own Your Roar” into a nonprofit.
But while she’s working to fight the stigma of mental health issues in student-athletes, she is still striving toward her goals as a Towson University student. This includes her academic work as a business administration major with a track in legal studies, and her focus on attending law school.
Lubarsky admits her experience at Towson University has included plenty of ups and downs. But thanks to her passion and the support system she has on campus, she can’t imagine a better university.
“All my professors, the athletic administration and my fellow student-athletes are so passionate and driven,” Lubarsky says. “I would not have gotten any of this done without them. My heart will always belong to Towson.”