Jenna Wiggs is a Junior volleyball player at UNC Greensboro. Last week, we sat down to discuss how she thinks about mental health, where she sees conversations around mental health going, and what life after sports will look like for her.
All right Jenna, so the first question I have for you is, what does mental health mean to you and how important is it in your daily life as a student-athlete?
Jenna: Yeah, so I would say mental health means how I take care of my mind, my soul, and my spirit. I think as a student-athlete, we are told to take care of our physical health a lot more than mental health. So for me, it's just what am I doing? How am I controlling my thoughts? How am I thinking about everything that goes on inside my mind? And it's super important to me just because I believe if I don't take care of myself mentally, I will not be the same athlete I am, not be the same person I am, or daughter, or friend to those people around me.
For sure. For sure. And, you know, we talked a little bit before about everything that's been going on in the past year and just the amount that student-athletes have had to deal with and juggle. In what ways have you been able to prioritize mental health in your life and kind of create routines to where you're better taking care of your headspace and just your overall well-being?
Jenna: Yeah, for sure. I think that when I'm trying to prioritize my mental health, the way I do that is just not ignoring the emotions that I feel. So I think that over this past year, or even eight to 12 months, everybody's feeling so many different feelings, whether that's anger, frustration or loneliness, you know, not being able to interact with people like how we used to. So I think that for me, I really felt those feelings and try not to dismiss them. So people who try to dismiss those feelings, I think can sometimes get a little wrapped up and then out of control once all those feelings hit you at once. So for me, I've tried to like, let myself feel those feelings. And then after that is passed, I realize how grateful I am, and realize all the things that I still am able to do. I'm still able to train. I'm still able to go play volleyball. I'm still able to lift weights whether if we're not competing or not. I'm still just trying to find little ways that I can be grateful for my situation. You know, so many people have just been in a lot worse situations than I have and so I just keep trying to remind myself how grateful I am to be in a position that I am and just not be "Woe is me" or "This year sucks," because we already know it does suck. 2020 at least did. And so just trying to just be grateful is what I have tried to practice most of all. And then obviously, I find little ways to prioritize my mental health, whether that's, you know, jumping on a call with a friend to catch up or having some time to myself, maybe getting off social media for a little bit of time. Those are ways that just help my mental health personally.
Yeah, yeah, definitely. I think those are good points. And I think that's also a good segue way to kind of talk about what you took away from last year. You know, you mentioned perspective and gratitude. What would you say is the biggest lesson that you learned from going through what you had to go through during 2020?
Jenna: OK, so it's a little bit different from gratitude, but I guess it could be gratitude to myself, but learning. Learning to love myself fully, is probably what I've learned in 2020 because I believe you can't give or you can't serve others unless you love yourself and you can look in the mirror every day at yourself and be proud of the person who stands before you. We're so quick to judge others, and especially during this time, you know, people want to point fingers and people want to tell other people what to believe you know, but really it starts within ourselves is one thing I've learned. So instead of trying to point the finger or instead of trying to look at others and accuse others, I've tried to look at myself. So coming out of 2020, I just want to be proud of the person who I look at every single day in the mirror, you know, who I show up to be and just be my true self every day.
I love that, and, you know, looking into the future, obviously, mental health is something I feel is a more prevalent topic these days with everything that's happening. But looking within your community on campus and at your teammates, where do you kind of see the conversation around mental health going for student-athletes and athletes in general in the future? Do you think, is something that will become more prevalent going forward?
Jenna: Yeah, I definitely think so. I think that even within this past year or maybe even two years, it's been talked about a lot more. I think people are starting to become just more vulnerable just because things aren't, you know, the way we wanted to go. You can't just pretend and put on this face all the time that everything's OK. Also, it's being normalized that it's OK to not be OK if that makes sense. And yeah, I would love to just encourage people just to be more open just because it can be uncomfortable or scary at first. But for me personally, every time I've opened up or shared something or asked a hard question to somebody or they've asked a hard question to me, it ultimately brings out the good. And I think that it's only going to help student-athletes help students on campus and just the sports community in general.
Shifting gears a little bit, obviously, you know, every athlete has to walk away from their sport one day, and it's often difficult for a lot of athletes to do. In what ways have you begun to prepare for that transition into life after sports?
Jenna: Yeah, it's scary to think about just because I've been playing volleyball for, I don't know, 12, 13 years now. So yeah, it's definitely going to be weird to let it go and I know it's going to be hard. I've been having to think about internships because I'm a junior now. You know, asking myself "What am I going to do this summer to try to prepare for my senior year?" Because I'm a communication major. It's pretty broad, but I'm really interested in baseball operations. I come from a baseball family. My dad's a baseball coach. So I've tried to reach out to some baseball minor league baseball organizations in the North Carolina area, and South Carolina area. So I'm hoping to intern with some of those teams this summer. That's my goal. But yeah, it's just weird to think about not ever playing volleyball again. But it's not there yet. I still got time.
Please enjoy it. It goes by fast. But obviously, you know, this year we've seen a lot of athletes speak out on social injustice and causes that they're passionate about and doing a lot of things outside of their sport. And to me, it's very inspiring and it's inspiring the next generation. But at the same time, you have a lot of people who say athletes should stick to sports and, you know, they should stay in that lane. What would you say to those people who feel like athletes shouldn't be talking about social causes or getting involved in things that they're passionate about outside of the game? What would you tell these people?
Jenna: Oh, yeah, that's a good question. I think you know, sports, obviously, we can just get so wrapped into. What I love to do, or you know, thinking all about the self, but ultimately we have to think about others and we have to think about how we're going to make an impact even after we're done playing the sport. So, yeah, we can make an impact while we're playing volleyball. But what are you passionate about? What are you going to do after the game? So basically, it's important to find what matters to you besides volleyball or besides whatever sport you play and be able to talk about that. You know, I had the opportunity to travel to a few different countries before I came here (UNC Greensboro) and actually before I started playing college volleyball in general. And, you know, that's my passion. So after I finish playing, my passion is to keep traveling and keep seeing new places and meeting new people and making an impact on those people who may not have as much as I have or may not have had opportunities that I've had. But just to like give insight and to give honestly love and just share all the things that I've got to experience with other people who may not have had those opportunities. So I would just say we can't just stick to our sport, even though we love the game, we love what we do. But ultimately, our purpose here, I believe on this planet is to make an impact on others and not just do what we love to do, but to share our love.
The last question I have for you is when you do make that transition into life after sports, looking back, what do you want to be remembered for by the UNCG community, your fans, and supporters?
Jenna: I would just say, being someone who showed up every day and just being that light. Every day I tried to bring energy, a smile, even if it's through the mask, a smile through my eyes (lol). I just try to be that joyful light that makes people laugh, makes people smile, and makes people love to be living. Honestly, some people ask why I'm so loud and so obnoxious but I think it's just because I want people to enjoy every day. I try to wake up every day and just be happy, and just be grateful for this life I live. So I hope people remember me and my time here at UNC G as someone just who loved the game of volleyball. Loved what she was doing. Was just grateful every day to be in class, or playing the game, or lifting weight, whatever I was doing. Just grateful for this life and opportunity.