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After long battle with depression, Val Whiting dedicates life to mental health

(Courtesy of Val Whiting)

Val Whiting opens the first episode of her podcast “Stay Fierce With Coach Val” with a harrowing story.

“I remember when I hit rock bottom,” she begins.

Whiting, a two-time national basketball champion at Stanford in the early 1990s, says at her lowest point she didn’t want to be a mother anymore, she didn’t want to be Val anymore, she didn’t want to live anymore, and she was on the run, unaware of where to turn. This, she tells her audience, is the tale of her second psych hospitalization.

“My mental health, I didn’t understand what was going on with me, and I kind of just ran away and I was suicidal,” Whiting tells Just Women’s Sports. “I have been hospitalized in the psych department three times in my life, and it’s eye-opening because you get to see what other people are going through.”

Whiting was first confronted with depression during her debut season with the Detroit Shock in 1999. The basketball star joined the WNBA after a standout career with the Cardinal and successful stints overseas and with the American Basketball League.

On a pre-med track at Stanford, Whiting’s original plan was to compete abroad and then return to the States to attend medical school. When women’s professional basketball became a feasible option in America, however, Whiting pursued it.

“I went to Detroit and struggled, and in the middle of the season, I developed depression, which I do not remember why it came on. I was on and off the injured reserve, and then the next season I took off because of depression,” Whiting recalls. “One game, I was on the bench, and the coach looked at me to go in, and I was like, ‘Nope, I don’t want to go in.’”

After getting married and having a child, Whiting left Detroit and joined the Minnesota Lynx. She played in 26 games for the Lynx in 2001, starting 15 of them, and six more in 2002 before quitting the WNBA.

“I don’t think I was totally myself,” she says. “I wasn’t totally healed mentally, and honestly, didn’t do the work I needed to do with medication and therapy. Or if I was on medication, I was feeling good and then taking myself off.”

At the time, it was believed that Whiting was taking time off for personal reasons. After a series of incorrect diagnoses, Whiting was finally diagnosed with Bipolar II disorder well after her WNBA career ended.

“I probably played my whole basketball career with undiagnosed bipolar depression, and I didn’t get diagnosed until roughly 10 years ago,” she says. “So, I think it was part of the up-and-down cycle.”

Whiting played three seasons in the WNBA before ending her career prematurely to focus on her mental health. (Doug Pensinger/Allsport/Getty Images)

It wasn’t until 2020 that Whiting spoke publicly about why she stepped away for a season and eventually left the WNBA. She revealed her struggles with mental illness on TikTok.

“When I came out, I guess I helped a lot of people talking about it. I didn’t think it was brave,” she says. “It felt good to say it out loud and not be so embarrassed.”

With the same candor on her podcast, Whiting details her experience running away from home and being hospitalized for the second time. She remembers the treatment center feeling like a “vacation,” finally giving her a chance to rest and concentrate on herself.

The hardest part was that other patients recognized Whiting in the small state of Delaware.

“I couldn’t be anonymous while I was in there,” she says. “I was already embarrassed about being there and having the stigma of being mentally ill that I was just scared.”

Once Whiting moved past her own shame over the diagnosis, she was able to begin the therapeutic process.

“When you hear those things, you feel really flawed, and it took me a while to really lean into treatment and being on medication,” she says. “People picture you having two different personalities, and it’s not really that. Misconceptions that we are unstable and we’re crazy and something can set us off, and that’s not it.”

As an athlete, Whiting says she was used to concrete rehabilitation timelines. A sprained ankle meant 7-10 days off the court. An ACL tear would take a year to rehab and heal. Unlike physical injuries, recovery from mental illness is unpredictable.

“There is not a formula on mourning. There is no formula on healing out there. I think we get into the comparison syndrome. You see someone else is doing well — ‘She came back from this, why can’t I come back?'” Whiting says. “At least for me, I put pressure on myself. From my last hospitalization in 2012, I want to say it took me five years for me to feel like myself again. It took that long.”

During her recovery process, there were long stretches when Whiting says she was unable to work, afraid she might “crack” again. Slowly, Whiting focused on what she needed to do to heal.

Now, Whiting hopes her vulnerability about her own journey can help others in similar positions.

“Right now, I am stable. I’m in therapy. I take medication,” she says. “I just want people to not go through what I went through. I feel like I waited until things got super bad and I just snapped.”

Whiting’s voice on the subject is critical as the nation faces a mental health emergency following years of isolation due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In December, the U.S. surgeon general warned of a mental health crisis among America’s youth in a 53-page document, citing significant increases in self-reported depression and anxiety as well as emergency room visits for suicide.

Also this year, the women’s college sports community has been reeling from the suicides of Stanford goalkeeper Katie Meyer and James Madison catcher Lauren Bernett, renewing calls for more mental health resources for student-athletes.

Whiting’s message to those struggling is to not feel ashamed, as she did when dark thoughts first started to creep into her head, and instead to seek help freely. While the stigma surrounding mental health has changed drastically since Whiting’s playing days, the sports culture still has a long way to go.

“My coach, Tara VanDerveer at Stanford, she is a totally different coach that she was when I was playing,” Whiting says. “I have teammates that are assistant coaches for her now, and I think people like that are making a better effort to see the athlete holistically and just not as, this is your job.”

Whiting, now a mental mindset coach for young athletes in women’s sports, is passionate about providing them with the resources she didn’t feel she had at their age.

“When you quit your sport, your self-worth is tied to that sport. And if you grow up in a way … with a coach that looks at you as more than just a player, your transition will be a lot healthier,” Whiting says. “At least for me, my transition was tough because basketball was all that I thought that I was, and that was taken away.”

Whiting hopes sport can be a model for mental health awareness, starting with teams having a sports psychologist or therapist on staff as a professional support system for their athletes.

“People go through things, and it’s our job to be there for them but also be cognizant of what symptoms could be and know that they may not look like what you think they are going to look like,” she says.

One of the most complex and tragic parts of mental illness is that someone who’s suffering doesn’t always show it publicly, and can seem content even to those closest to them. Whiting encourages friends, family members, teammates and coaches to get out ahead of it as often as they can, in an effort to prevent more tragedies and mental health crises.

“Someone who is struggling with a mental illness may not look the way you think it is going to look,” Whiting says. “Constantly check in on your loved ones and how they are doing. And don’t just ask how you’re doing — really get deep in there and ask those questions.”

Note: If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide or is in emotional distress, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to 741741 to connect with a trained crisis counselor.

Clare Brennan is an Associate Editor at Just Women’s Sports.

USWNT to face Costa Rica in final Olympic send-off

uswnt sophia smith and tierna davidson celebrate at shebeilves cup 2024
The USWNT will play their final pre-Olympic friendly against Costa Rica on July 16th. (Photo by Greg Bartram/ISI Photos/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

U.S. Soccer announced Tuesday that the USWNT will play their last home game on July 16th in the lead-up to the 2024 Summer Olympic Games in Paris.

The 2024 Send-Off Match against Costa Rica will take place at Washington, DC’s Audi Field — home to both the Washington Spirit and DC United — at 7:30 p.m. ET on Tuesday, July 16th. The friendly rounds out a four-game Olympic run-up campaign under incoming head coach Emma Hayes’ side, with the last two set to feature the finalized 2024 U.S. Olympic Women’s Soccer Team roster.

Hayes will appear on the USWNT sideline for the first time this June, helming the team as they embark on a two-game series against Korea Republic hosted by Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colorado on June 1st followed by Allianz Stadium in St. Paul, Minnesota on June 4th. 

The team is then scheduled to meet a talented Mexico squad on July 13th at Gotham FC’s Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey, where the Olympic-bound lineup will attempt to rewrite February’s shocking 2-0 loss to El Tri Femenil in the group stages of this year’s Concacaf W Gold Cup. And while clear roster favorites have emerged from both of this year’s Gold Cup and SheBelives Cup rosters, a spate of recent and recurring injuries means making it to the Olympics is still largely anyone’s game.

Broadcast and streaming channels for the USWNT's final July 16th friendly at Audi Field include TNT, truTV, Universo, Max, and Peacock.

Caitlin Clark’s WNBA start to serve as 2024 Olympic tryout

Clark of the Indiana Fever poses for a photo with Lin Dunn and Christie Sides during her introductory press conference on April 17, 2024
The talented Fever rookie is still in the running for a ticket to this summer's Paris Olympics. (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)

The USA Basketball Women's National Team is still considering Caitlin Clark for a spot on the Paris Olympics squad, says selection committee chair Jennifer Rizzotti. 

On Monday, Rizzotti told the AP that the committee will be evaluating the college phenom’s Olympic prospects by keeping a close eye on her first few weeks of WNBA play with Indiana.

The move is somewhat unconventional. While Clark was invited to participate in the 14-player national team training camp held earlier this month — the last camp before Team USA’s roster drops — she was unable to attend due to it coinciding with Iowa’s trip to the NCAA Women’s Final Four.

Judging by the immense talent spread throughout the league in what might be their most hyped season to date, competition for a piece of the Olympic pie could be fiercer than ever before.

"You always want to introduce new players into the pool whether it's for now or the future," said Rizzotti. "We stick to our principles of talent, obviously, positional fit, loyalty and experience. It's got to be a combination of an entire body of work. It's still not going to be fair to some people."

Of course, Clark isn’t the first rookie the committee has made exceptions for. Coming off an exceptional college season that saw her averaging 19.4 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 4 assists per game for UConn, Breanna Stewart was tapped to represent the U.S. at the 2016 Olympics in Brazil less than two weeks after being drafted No. 1 overall by the Seattle Storm. Eight years prior, fellow No. 1 pick Candace Parker punched her ticket to the 2008 Games in Beijing just two weeks after making her first appearance for the L.A. Sparks.

In the lead-up to Paris’ Opening Ceremony on July 26th, USA Basketball Women’s National Team is scheduled to play a pair of exhibition games. They'll first go up against the WNBA's finest at the July 20th WNBA All-Star Game in Phoenix before facing Germany in London on July 23rd.

While an official roster announcement date hasn’t yet been issued, players won’t find out if they’ve made this year’s Olympic cut until at least June 1st.

WNBA teams make history with 2024 season ticket sell-outs

Arike Ogunbowale on the wnba court for the dallas wings
The Dallas Wings are now the third team to sell out their entire season ticket allotment in WNBA history. (Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images)

For the first time in history, three different WNBA teams have completely sold out of season ticket plans well before the league's May 14th kick-off.

Call it the Caitlin Clark effect, attribute it to this year’s tenacious rookie class, or look to the skyrocketing visibility of veteran players across the board. But no matter the cause, facts are facts: Tickets to the 2024 WNBA season are selling like never before. 

On Monday, the Dallas Wings became the third team to sell out of season ticket memberships in the league’s 27-year history. The announcement from Arlington came shortly after the Atlanta Dream issued their own season ticket sell-out statement, also on Monday, and almost seven weeks after the back-to-back WNBA Champion Las Vegas Aces made headlines by becoming the first-ever WNBA team to sell out their season ticket allotment.   

According to the Wings, season ticket memberships will fill nearly 40% of the 6,251 seats inside their home arena, College Park Center. The club also said that their overall ticket revenue has ballooned to the tune of 220% this year, spanning not just season tickets but also a 1,200% increase in single ticket sales. There’s currently a waitlist to become a Dallas season ticket holder, a status that comes with extra incentives like playoff presale access and discounts on additional single-game tickets. 

In Atlanta, season tickets aren't the only thing flying off the shelves. The Dream also announced that they broke their own record for single-game ticket sales during a recent limited presale campaign. Sunday was reportedly their most lucrative day, with five different games totally selling out Gateway Center Arena. Individual tickets for all upcoming matchups will hit the market this Thursday at 8 a.m., while a waitlist for season ticket memberships will open up next Tuesday at 10 a.m.

"Excitement around women's sports, particularly basketball, is at an all-time high and nowhere is that felt more than here in Atlanta," Dream president and COO Morgan Shaw Parker said in the team’s statement. "We’ve continued a record-setting growth trajectory over the past three years under new ownership — both on and off the court — and 2024 is shaping up to be our best season yet."

As of Tuesday, season ticket sales revenue for Caitlin Clark’s hotly anticipated Indiana Fever debut haven’t yet been announced by the club. But if these numbers are any indication — not to mention the explosive demand for Fever away games felt by teams around the country — it won’t be long before we see some scale-tipping figures coming out of Indianapolis.

Nelly Korda ties LPGA record with fifth-straight tournament win

Nelly Korda of the United States celebrates with the trophy after winning The Chevron Championship
Nelly Korda poses with her trophy after acing her fifth-straight tour title at The Chevron Championship on Sunday. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

25-year-old American pro golfer Nelly Korda secured her spot in LPGA history on Sunday, notching her fifth-straight title at this weekend's Chevron Championship in The Woodlands, Texas.

Ranked No. 1 in the world by Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings, Korda joins Nancy Lopez (1978) and Annika Sörenstam (2005) as just the third LPGA player to rack up five consecutive tour wins. She is also the third No. 1-ranked player to capture The Chevron Championship victory since the rankings debuted in 2006, accompanied by Lorena Ochoa and Lydia Ko.

The Florida native shot three-under 69 in Sunday's final, besting Sweden's Maja Stark despite Stark's valiant come-from-behind attempt in the 18th. Korda finished with a four-day total of 13-under 275, celebrating her two-stroke win by cannonballing into Poppie's Pond, much to the crowd's delight. She left The Club at Carlton Woods with $1.2 million from an overall purse of $7.9 million.

It wasn't long ago that the two-time major champion's current winning streak seemed unimaginable. After maintaining her No. 1 position for 29 weeks, Korda underwent surgery to remove a blood clot from her left arm in 2022. She returned to the course not long after, but failed to win a single tournament in 2023 before seeing a surge in form during the first four months of 2024. As of today, she hasn't lost a tournament since January.

Korda will attempt a record sixth-straight win at next week's JM Eagle LA Championship at Wilshire Country Club in Los Angeles, where she'll vie for a cut of the $3.75 million purse.

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