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Dana Perry: Finding Your Voice

TW: disordered eating

I started playing soccer at around 3 years old. For me, it was always something that was fun and a good way to be surrounded by amazing people. I never thought I would play soccer in college; I didn't think it was possible. Around the end of 10th grade, at 16 years old I landed on my first competitive club team. This was “late” when compared to most others. I started to see my potential, and I had a coach that truly believed in what I was capable of. That started both the best and worst years of my life.

I am very driven. Like most athletes, I won’t stop until I achieve what I'm working towards, and for the later part of high school that was playing college soccer. It was my dream. It wasn’t the best journey, and I didn’t always hear what I wanted from college coaches, but by February of my senior year I had committed to Stevens for soccer and it felt like a weight was lifted off my chest. Everything that I had worked for had paid off, but on March 13th, 2020 everything began to change. I was finally at the end of a stressful year of recruiting and while I might not have been in the best place mentally, I was ready to move on with all the good that was to come. Covid took my senior year and what felt like everything I had worked for away from me. I was devastated. I didn’t know how to react, I didn’t understand how I was feeling, and instead of facing my feelings I hid them away and I decided to focus on what I thought was preparing myself to be as ready as I could for college soccer. I thought it was a great idea. I would have almost 5 months to prepare, get in “sick shape”, and prove to everyone who said I couldn’t play in college wrong.

I thought that if I worked out multiple times a day, 7 days a week, and ate as “healthy” as I could, I would better my game for the fall season. This started an unhealthy relationship with both food and my body. It became something I thought about every day. I couldn’t go to bed without thinking about what I was going to eat the next day, or what workouts I was going to do. I found myself captivated by TikTok after TikTok watching quote-on-quote influencers eating 1100 calories a day and thinking “I must do this tomorrow to look like them”. I thought I needed to make myself as small as possible to be the best in my sport. I would go from morning sprint workouts to goalie training to gym lift sessions to even night walks with my parents and think that was okay. I was burning thousands of calories a day and priding myself on a carb-free diet. I was not treating my body with respect and I was definitely not preparing myself as I thought I was.

When I got to Stevens, I struggled a lot during my first year. I didn’t want anyone to know what I was going through, I just wanted to make friends and I wanted my teammates to think I belonged. I broke my arm on day 3 of being there in the fall, just catching a ball. Something that I did a million times over, but now seemed so hard. I worked hard on my own over winter break to get back to soccer eating more, and even lifting to be healthy for the spring season. I thought I was better, and I was happy that I did it all on my own. I moved into my first apartment in the spring and I began to struggle again as I was for the first time solely responsible for my food intake. I had too much control over when/what I ate, and I began to fall back into old habits. Soccer started in the spring and it was hard; harder than I thought. I couldn’t keep up. I wasn’t focused at trainings, everything in the weight room felt heavy, and I didn’t know what to do. As more and more practices/lifts/games went by, I continued to feel more and more mentally and physically drained. My love and passion for the game was dwindling, my social battery wasn’t there, and no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t like the girl I saw in the mirror. Everything I had worked for seemed so far out of reach and I began to question what I was doing at Stevens and if I would ever feel the same again.

One night after practice I couldn’t take it anymore so I called my mom, and finally told her everything, crying to her for hours. I went home the next week and we made a pact from that day on to get a little better each day.

I started seeing a therapist, which seemed so scary in the past. I was hesitant at first but I am so grateful to have spoken to the people I have. My therapist once told me that she can’t promise all my thoughts will go away, but she can promise to help me find ways to outsmart them and to show them who’s boss. I laughed when she said this and thought she was crazy, but for the past 2 years, that’s just what I have done.

Around 6 months ago I started posting quotes to my Instagram, sharing my story on TikTok, and opening up little by little about my struggles. I am not afraid to share what I have gone through because I know there are hundreds of athletes out there struggling just like me, thinking they’re one in a million. I know how it feels to think the worst, and to think you’ll never get better. I have been humbled the past year of my life gaining back my love for the sport, my relationship with food, my social life, my strength, my passions, and my life.

I want athletes to know it’s okay to have a bad day. We are not perfect and we don’t EVER have to be. You’re allowed to have feelings and your feelings are so unbelievably VALID. The stigma surrounding mental health in athletes needs to end. We are people just like everyone else. The pressures we put on ourselves and the pressures others put on us are more than any can handle. Lean on each other and NEVER fight it alone. I am so grateful to have a platform to share my story and advocate for what I believe in. Thank you to Stevens, The Hidden Opponent, and Hope For Athletes for allowing me to share my story and end the stigma. You’re never alone, don’t forget it!


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