On the day after her eighteenth birthday, Kara Stroup told her mother about her seven-year struggle with an eating disorder.
Four years later, on September 15, 2015, just after National Suicide Prevention Week ended, Stroup shared her battle publicly on Owl Sports, encouraging those who are dealing with depression to seek help and talk to someone.
She hasn’t stop speaking since.
Stroup detailed the events after revealing her eating disorder, including being placed in an outpatient therapy program and two trips to the emergency room.
“Since then, I have grown accustomed to mostly good days and rarely bad ones, but I am a constant work in progress, and I always will be,” Stroup wrote in September. “Through trial and error, I am always figuring out new and better ways of how to manage myself. The hard work is never actually over. Recovery does not have an exact end point and it is not a perfectly straight line upward.”
The class of 2016 graduate and two-year lacrosse captain has had her story told on local news broadcasts and spoken at several schools, including Millersville University. During National Eating Disorders Awareness Week in February, Stroup shared her experience during a meeting for Active Minds, a nonprofit that encourages conversation about mental health.
“I think it’s just encouraging the conversation because in every single house, whether or not your have an actual issue, your mental health is the health of your brain,” Stroup said. “You don’t have to have depression to be going through a hard time and at some point in every person’s life, they’re going to have a difficult time.
Normalizing mental health discussion and reducing stigmatization would encourage more people to seek help, just like they do for the common cold and other ailments, Stroup said.
“It’s the same exact thing, but a lot of times it’s not getting taken care of because people aren’t talking about it because it’s’ not seen as a regular health issue.”
The One Love Foundation recognized Stroup in May, choosing her from a group of 10 finalists to win the 2016 YRL Unsung Hero Award.
The award is given to one male and one female Division I lacrosse player in memory of Yeardley Love, a University of Virginia lacrosse player who was murdered by her ex-boyfriend in 2010. Sharon and Alexis Love, Yeardley’s mother and sister, co-founded One Love in 2010 to educate communities about relationship violence.
“Kara is an outstanding student-athlete, and she has clearly earned the respect of her teammates and coaching staff because of her positive attitude,” Sharon Robinson, vice chair of the One Love Foundation, said via email. “She leads by example in always trying her best, and encourages others to play their best as well. Her bravery in stepping forward to break the myth about mental health and share her story truly makes her unique.”
Stroup’s award money will be donated to the Bo Tkach Foundation in memory of her cousin, to whom she dedicated her personal essay.
Tkach graduated from Northern Lehigh High School in 2001 with a football scholarship to the University of Delaware. After transferring twice, he graduated magna cum laude from Wilkes University in 2007. Tkach suffered from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and depression before his suicide in 2007. The foundation his parents created in his memory provides $3,000 to $4,000 per month to pay for youths’ mental health counseling.
“What I’m really grateful for getting the award is that it’s once again giving me another opportunity with an even greater audience,” Stroup said. “Only good can come from that. So that’s really why I’m grateful to get the award because it’s giving me more opportunities to help others.”
Stroup started on defense in all 68 of Temple’s games in her four year career, totaling a career-high 20 ground balls and 17 caused turnovers in her senior season. For her sixth summer, she will coach with NXT Lacrosse. The Garnet Valley native will coach a girls elementary school team, her first time as a head coach. Stroup is looking for a way to use her psychology degree to continue to impact others.
“I don’t know what exactly I’m going to go into, but there will always be the drive for me to work in a mental health sector in some way,” Stroup said. “Because I always feel like I was wasting the experience that I had if I wasn’t helping others get through that when I have the ability to use my voice and others don’t.”