Katie Pinson cannot help but sport a bright smile every time she talks about her late mother.
“My mother was super supportive,” Pinson said. “Her love and support will always be with me, and will always be driving me despite of my loss.”
The senior runner has been open in sharing her story about the tough period she went through after her mother died in Spring 2015, the second semester of Pinson’s freshman year.
On Sept. 27, Pinson shared a message on Instagram about the struggles she dealt with following her mother’s death in order to raise awareness about mental health issues. She wrote about how she concealed her emotions to prevent people from treating her differently, which led to anxiety.
Last week, the National Alliance on Mental Illness held its Mental Illness Awareness Week, which the American Athletic Conference recognized through a social media campaign called “Pow6rfulMinds.” Pinson used the campaign’s hashtag in her post.
The American’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee organized the campaign as part of a year-long initiative, and Pinson posted her message on Temple’s SAAC Instagram page. The American SAAC’s initiative began on Sept. 25.
“I wanted to bring situations like this to light,” Pinson said. “I know I am not the only person who has dealt with struggles before. Athletes are seen as tough people who do not let anything affect their mind, and that is wrong. People need to know it is OK to not be OK.”
“I was angry and sad at the same time and I didn’t know why,” she wrote in her Instagram message. “My performance and training suffered because I was frustrated with how I felt. I started to forget why I stayed on the team and why I love what I do.”
The American will continue its recognition of mental-health awareness on Oct. 28 at the cross country championship meet at Belmont Plateau. Runners from Temple and other schools will tie their spikes with green laces, Pinson said. Green is the color the conference chose to honor the initiative and widely used in mental health awareness campaigns.
Coach James Snyder said “everyone took a hit” when Pinson’s mother died. He wanted to let Pinson and the rest of the program know it is more about the team being a family than worrying about running fast.
“I told Katie and everyone else, ‘My door is always open to talk,’” Snyder said. “I want everyone to know the closer we are as a team, the easier it is to recover from situations like Katie’s. It is never easy to lose a loved one, but this program being a tight-knit family helps out a lot.”
“I knew I had support from all angles,” Pinson said. “My team, coaches, family and friends have always been there for me. I started to realize my mom might not be on Earth, but she will always be with me.”
Pinson held a flower-planting event in April at the Temple Sports Complex to honor her mother and to provide a space for others to share stories like hers. With the help of student-athlete donations through a carnation sale, she planted petunias — one of her mother’s favorite flowers — near the track. She said she raised $500 to donate to Women in Transition — a Philadelphia-based organization founded in 1971 that offers counseling to those in abusive relationships, as well as substance abuse intervention and self-defense classes. The organization is similar to the one Pinson’s family asked people to donate to in honor of her mother shortly after her death.
“I came to a point where I had to be open about what has happened,” Pinson said. “This event was a simple way to do so. It was perfect for me since it was held at the track and that is basically my second home.”
Teammates were quick to support her efforts, Pinson said. The love she received warmed her heart.
Sophomore Millie Howard said the team was behind Pinson’s plan to honor her mother. Because the flowers are planted near the track, it made things “extra special” Howard said.
“It is always nice when you can do things as a team,” Howard said. “We wanted to be there for Katie any way we could to help what she was going through. We hope we can continue this event annually so we can honor Katie’s mother and the initiatives Katie is fighting for at the track.”
Based off last year’s success, Pinson plans to hold the same event in April 2018. She won’t start planning until winter break, but she has learned from last year how to make the event “bigger and better,” she said.
“I have to schedule a better date so more of the student-athlete population can come out and support,” Pinson said. “Also, we are trying to advertise to the student body as well so they can donate and share their stories.”
She wants to see the event continue to grow after she graduates.
“This event is my baby,” Pinson said. “Since I am the only graduating senior, I feel like my team will be able to carry that on. I want to be able to provide a template people after me can build on and hopefully carry the event on.”