During recent weeks, the Truman State swimming program has taken steps to raise awareness of mental illness. The Bulldog swimmers joined the Orange Bead Collective, a group that strives to raise awareness about mental health and support those who have been affected by anxiety and depression.
The Orange Bead Collective was founded by Bree Blatchford, a 23-year-old from California. Blatchford, who was diagnosed with depression and anxiety, created the collective to provide a comfortable space where those who are affected by mental illness can share their experiences. On the Orange Bead Collective’s website, Blatchford says she hopes to raise awareness about depression and remove the stigma that surrounds it. The site also informs those who do not have a mental illness about anxiety and depression, and how their negative societal connotations can be eliminated.
Junior Emily Ponte introduced the OBC to the Truman swimming program. Ponte says when she first discovered the movement earlier last semester, she says she planned to ask her family to join the movement because she has a family member who has battled mental illness. Later, during Christmas break, Ponte says she wanted to expand the support and thought it was important to share her experience with her team.
“[Some of my teammates] have faced some tragedies and needed support,” Ponte says. “It shows that there is always a shoulder to lean on, no matter what.”
Along with spreading awareness among her teammates, Ponte says it was important every team member joined the collective. She says the teammates have meetings to discuss what is going on in their lives, and joining the Orange Bead Collective solidified the support the swimmers have for one another. She says the orange bracelets represent a willingness to talk and listen to anyone who needs a friend, just like her teammates do for one another.
Ponte says she also uses the orange bead bracelet as a symbol that she will provide a comfortable environment to those who are diagnosed with mental illnesses. She says even though depression and anxiety are personal battles, it is important not to judge during the healing process. She says the OBC is a reminder that mental illnesses are nothing to be ashamed of.
Ponte says her future plans for the Orange Bead Collective include reaching out to Truman students, especially Truman athletes. Ponte says she wants all athletes to purchase a bracelet in support of the cause, and spread awareness within Greek Life and the Truman campus.
“It moved me that everyone was so supportive,” Ponte says. “It makes me want to branch out to more people.”
Assistant Swim Coach Jerod Simek says joining the Orange Bead Collective was not a surprise for the program. Simek says because of what the swimmers have been through during recent years, the swimmers really have needed one another for support outside of the pool. Simek says that he is honored to coach a group of people who are positive role models.
“It is one of those things that [Head Coach] Ed [Petre] and myself are truly proud of,” Simek says. “It is what makes them reveal their true character.”
The swimmers are currently preparing for the GLVC Championships, which will begin Feb. 11.
For more insights about Truman’s swimmers joining the Orange Bead Collective, pick up a copy of the Index or click here to read online on Issuu.