In August, I won the Tennessee College Public Relations Association’s silver award in feature writing for my profile of Maddy Banic, a mental health advocate and former University of Tennessee Lady Vols swimmer who earned a national title in her last NCAA championships.

The story was first published as the cover story for Accolades Magazine, an annual print publication of the University of Tennessee’s College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences. It was reprinted in the spring/summer edition of Torchbearer, the university’s official alumni magazine.

Here’s an excerpt from the story. You may read more at the hyperlinks above:

Banic had fought too hard for it to end like this. The depression diagnosis her freshman year; the panic attack at the 2017 NCAA finals that saw her scratched from two events and hospitalized; the near suicide attempt months later in her apartment; the three-month NCAA-enforced separation from a team that wasn’t sure it wanted her back anyway. This was Banic’s final national championship as a collegiate swimmer, her last chance to leave with a medal—not for herself but for the teammates who took her back and voted her their captain in the fall of 2018, entrusting her to lead them.

With an evening final in the team 200-yard medley relay remaining, [head coach Matt] Kredich issued Banic a challenge: collect yourself and lead your teammates, he told her.

“She looked at me and took a deep breath,” Kredich remembers. “And she said, ‘OK, I can do that.’”

Hours later, Banic, Meghan Small, Nikol Popov, and Erika Brown won gold. It was Tennessee’s fourth NCAA relay title and Banic’s first national title. It was a moment. But even as Banic stood beside her teammates on the podium wearing a coonskin cap and a wide-eyed grin—joy erupting from the parts of her that had hurt for so long—she knew it was not the finish.

“This sport is something you do—it’s not who you are,” Banic says. “You can step aside and then come back. You don’t have to give up. You don’t have to hide that you’re struggling. You can seek help.”

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