Athlete Finds Purpose Through Mental Health Athlete Finds Purpose Through Mental Health

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC News) – Ayana Fletcher began running track her freshman year of high school. Although softball was her favorite sport, she got a track scholarship to Shorter University in Georgia in 2012.

At the height of her college career, she became the 2015 NCAA Division II track and field national champion. She was also a part of Shorter’s 2015 National Christian College Athletic Association national championship team.

Fletcher was confident about her performance going into the spring 2016 national NCAA indoor track championship. She said she was running the best she had ever run in her life. The athlete said she was also in a good mental state, but she had no idea that wouldn’t last.

When Fletcher’s race started, she flew past the only competitor she thought could beat her.  She said she started to relax too soon, and her competitor took the lead. Fletcher couldn’t regain the lead and finished second. Both Fletcher and her competitor set a world record for the competition that day, but Fletcher still wasn’t pleased with her performance.

“That literally sent me in the worst downward spiral,” Fletcher said. “I didn’t win, so I felt like a failure.”

She said she felt depressed and didn’t want to run again. Fletcher put a lot of pressure on herself and was no longer confident in the future of her track career.

“I never forgave myself for that moment until this year,” Fletcher said.

In fall 2016, Fletcher injured her shoulder, which took away her 2017 track season. She came back in 2018 ready to regain her momentum. In June 2018, Fletcher ran some of her best times and qualified in the indoor and outdoor track U.S. nationals. She even finished 13th in the nation for the outdoor competition. Things took a turn the next month when she found out she was pregnant.

“I thought ‘this is it,’” Fletcher said. “It was a rough time mentally.”

Although she was no longer able to continue that track season, she gained hope when thinking about her son, Walker Fletcher. Fletcher knew she wanted to show him the importance of not giving up.

The track star’s 2019 and 2020 track season was taken by the COVID-19 pandemic, but she still took time to tend to her mental health. She did so by limiting her media consumption, learning about different plants and photography and spending time with her husband, Lane Fletcher, and son.

Fletcher’s journey has taught her that she’s not “superhuman,” meaning that she’s not immune to having flaws and making mistakes.

Syracuse mental health counselor Linzy Andre believes that many athletes of color like Naomi Osaka and Sha’Carri Richardson are given that title. Andre said many young athletes are pushed into becoming “superhumans” without the consideration of their mental health.

“No one is superhuman. Everyone has a breaking point and sometimes it takes getting to that breaking point to recognize the need for that balance I was talking about and building of coping skills,” Fletcher said.


Woman sitting
Ayana Fletcher is committed to her mental health while in her off season.
© 2021 Ayana Fletcher

Fletcher is now in her off season and is taking time to be with her family while continuing to prepare mentally for her 2021 training. Her goal is to qualify for the 2022 U.S. national indoor track team.

“You can do anything you put your mind to. You don’t have to give up just because things don’t always go your way,” Fletcher said.

Related Articles