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Sarah Fuller opens up about mental health pressures, ‘pressing pause’

(Photo courtesy of Minnesota Aurora FC)

Sarah Fuller is opening up about her mental health struggles. The goalkeeper told Sports Illustrated’s Julie Kliegman that earlier this year thoughts of self-harm and suicide led her to take a break from soccer.

Fuller, who became the first woman to score points in NCAA Division I football while at Vanderbilt, played soccer as a graduate student at North Texas for the 2021-22 academic year. She also spent this summer as a goalkeeper for Minnesota Aurora FC, helping the team to a runner-up finish in its first USL W League season.

Before her stint with the Aurora, though, Fuller took a lengthy break from soccer. The death of Stanford goalkeeper Katie Meyer in March provided a wakeup call, and Fuller committed to changing something about her mental health, she told Sports Illustrated.

She was feeling burnt out on the field. She also admitted that – at least subconsciously – the stress from the immediate fame (and subsequent criticisms, among them a death threat) brought by her accomplishments had caught up with her.

After scheduling an emergency session with her sports psychologist, Fuller stepped away from soccer for the latter half of the spring semester. She still was working out, and even ran the Boston Marathon during that time, but she took a break from the game.

“When you’re at that low of a point, the things that you love, that excite you, that you have a passion for, tend to be sometimes the most draining,” Fuller told Sports Illustrated.

The break helped, and Fuller returned to soccer, ready to enjoy it once again. As a captain with Aurora FC, Fuller helped the team navigate its first season. For Fuller, it was the “happiest she’s ever been playing soccer.”

“I’ve taken this opportunity at Aurora to take a better step forward with soccer and have a better relationship with it and just find the joy in being around my teammates,” she told Sports Illustrated. “Everything’s honestly a 180 from where I was at.”

After her run to the USL W League finals with Aurora FC, though, Fuller announced Wednesday that she plans to forgo her final semester of college soccer eligibility. She will continue to pursue her master’s degree in sports entertainment management at North Texas and appreciates “the massive support from Mean Green Nation.”

Still, Fuller told Sports Illustrated that she plans to continue to speak out on mental health issues, and she would like to see the NCAA mandate more mental health resources for student athletes.

“I don’t even want that to be an option for student-athletes, to think of suicide,” she said. “You’re much better taking a step back and pressing pause.”