Heart of a Champion Award: Emily Brunemann, Kally Fayhee, and Athletes Connected, University of Michigan
2015 began with a dark cloud over the sport, as a run of suicides by young swimmers weighed heavy on swimmers’ hearts across the nation. The list included the deaths of two very high profile high school swimmers, Jake Miller and Vance Sanders, along with several others whose losses were no less significant.
In parallel with these tragedies, the University of Michigan launched a program called Athletes Connected, believed to be the biggest initiative of its kind in addressing the specific mental health issues young athletes deal with on a daily basis.
Among the many people who worked, and continue to work, to make this program a reality are a pair of former swim team captains at the University of Michigan: Emily Brunemann and Kally Fayhee.
Brunemann, who is currently working on her master’s degree in social work, has served on the Michigan women’s swim team coaching staff and is currently a member of the USA Swimming National Team in open water. Her work with the program involves helping facilitate the Athletes Connected group discussions, encouraging athletes to come together and share experiences.
Beyond that effort, Brunemann is the lead author on SwimSwam’s Mental Health for Athletes series, where she discusses very important mental health issues with our audience. But her work with SwimSwam isn’t the reason for the award; rather it’s a byproduct of the same drive that led her to become involved with Athletes Connected: the desire to fill a gap in sport between the need for the type of mental toughness it takes to achieve elite levels of sport and the need for a mental health revolution in athletes.
Fayhee, meanwhile, has been a subject of several Athletes Connected documentaries, speaking openly about her own battles with an eating disorder as an athlete.
Brunemann and Fayhee, along with the rest of the team at Athletes Connected, have demonstrated that having the Heart of a Champion doesn’t mean being invincible, and they’ve begun a badly needed conversation in sports at a time when it was more needed than ever.