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College track star dies by suicide, family launches foundation in her name

(MADISON, Wisc.) — A family and college community are mourning the loss of a 21-year-old track star at University of Wisconsin-Madison who died by suicide.

Sarah Shulze, a cross-country athlete, died on April 13, according to a statement from her parents and two sisters.

“Sarah took her own life. Balancing athletics, academics and the demands of every day life overwhelmed her in a single, desperate moment,” the family wrote on Shulze’s website. “Like you, we are shocked and grief stricken while holding on tightly to all that Sarah was.”

The family described Shulze as a “power for good in the world” who advocated for social causes and women’s rights and was a member of the Student Athlete Council at University of Wisconsin-Madison.

On Friday, the family announced the launch of a foundation in Shulze’s name to “continue to support the causes most important to our Sarah.”

The foundation, named the Sarah Shulze Foundation, will focus on women’s rights and student athletes and mental health, according to the family’s statement.

On college campuses in the United States, around 30% of women and 25% of men who are student-athletes report having anxiety, according to data shared by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM).

Among athletes with known mental health conditions, only 10% seek care from a mental health professional, according to the ACSM.

The NCAA found that during the coronavirus pandemic, student-athletes’ mental health was even negatively affected, with students reporting stress due to academic concerns, lack of access to their sport, financial worries and COVID-19 health concerns.

Professional athletes like Michael Phelps, Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka have been public in recent years about the pressure, stress and burnout they’ve faced at the top of their sports, and those are struggles college athletes may feel too.

According to the ACSM, student-athletes face pressures from academics and competing, as well as other stressors like being away home home, traveling for games, feeling isolated from campus and other students due to their focus on sports and adapting to being in the public spotlight.

Following Shulze’s death, the University of Wisconsin-Madison issued a statement, describing the college community as “heartbroken.”

“Sarah was a beloved daughter, sister, granddaughter, friend, teammate and Badger student-athlete,” the school said. “We extend our deepest sympathies and sincere condolences to Sarah’s family, friends and Badger teammates during this extraordinarily difficult time.”

Earlier this month, Cailin Bracken, a lacrosse player at Vanderbilt University, gained national attention after writing an essay urging coaches, schools, parents and fellow players to pay attention to the mental health of student-athletes.

“Playing a sport in college, honestly, feels like playing fruit ninja with a butter knife,” Bracken wrote in an essay titled, “A Letter to College Sports.” “There are watermelons and cantaloupes being flung at you from all different directions, while you’re trying to defend yourself using one of those flimsy cafeteria knives that can’t even seem to spread room-temperature butter.”

“And beyond the chaos and overwhelm of it all, you’ve got coaches and parents and trainers and professors who expect you to come away from the experience unscathed, fruit salad in hand,” she added.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741. You can reach Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860 (U.S.) or 877-330-6366 (Canada) and The Trevor Project at 866-488-7386.

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