Karly Nowak

Karly Nowak is a junior on the Acrobatics & Tumbling team and co-chair of Duck the Stigma, a program that advocates to eliminate the stigma surrounding mental health in collegiate athletics.

This article discusses mental health. For more information about the importance of mental health and to access mental health resources, please scroll to the bottom of this page.

By Luis Ramirez

Junior Karly Nowak noticed something was off her freshman year while participating as a new member of the the Acrobatics and Tumbling team at the University of Oregon. She was struggling in school and decided to go to a mental health panel, where she’d listen to other athletes talk about their mental health and how they navigated struggles themselves.

“I had no idea why I was feeling the way I was feeling,” Nowak said. “I wasn’t feeling myself, I was feeling down and couldn’t figure out why. The panel helped open my eyes that I wasn’t the only one.”

Student-athletes have been dealing with mental health issues for years and universities have sought out ways to better help those that need it.

To help out Nowak and others, a group of student-athletes created a campaign titled “Duck the Stigma,” where they speak on the importance of seeking counseling and support in dealing with mental health challenges such as anxiety and depression.

Nowak was so enamored with the program that she decided to become a co-chair this year.

“This winter when we came back from winter break, we had just started our season.” Nowak said. “I went through a rough time at the beginning of our season. I dealt with anxiety and it’s something that I struggled with for a long time and became more prevalent when I got to college. I started to feel depressed and I remember I didn’t want to get out of bed and had a hard time going to class”

It got so bad that she finally reached out to her coaches and a therapist to start talking about it and being open with her feelings.

“I think talking about it really helped me out and made me realize how much more mental health and advocating for mental health meant to me,” Nowak said. “As athletes we’re perfectionists and want to be in control, but with stuff like this you need to learn to give yourself grace and how to take a step back when you realizing that you’re noticing these symptoms.”

The program continues to help student-athletes at Oregon and shows just how much pressure they have to compete and stay on top of their studies.

“At the Division 1 level, there is so much pressure for you to perform not just in your sport, but in your academics,” Nowak said. “You also need to have a life outside of athletics and be more than just an athlete. You get burnt out.”

Nowak hopes this program continues to help student-athletes seek the help that they need when they need it.

As Women In Flight continues to enhance the female student-athlete experience, we’re dedicated to highlighting areas where student-athletes feel they need support and work to find solutions. If mental health is a passion of yours and something you’d like to learn more about supporting, please reach out to us directly at


May is Mental Health Awareness Month. If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, please refer to the below resources for help. If you are having thoughts of hurting yourself or need someone to talk to, please take action now by calling 1-800-273-8255 or by visiting