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Varsity Club Distributes Book Focused on Mental Health

The Murr Center houses a number of Athletics Department administrative offices.

The Harvard Varsity Club distributed copies of a book about mental health and Ivy League athletics to Harvard athletes and athletics administrators on Wednesday, drawing praise from current and former student-athletes.

“What Made Maddy Run: The Secret Struggles and Tragic Death of an All-American Teen” tells the story of Madison S. Holleran, a successful student-athlete at the University of Pennsylvania who took her own life in the spring of her first year at the university.

Author Kate Fagan’s ESPN feature, “Split Image,” was widely read and praised for its in-depth look at Holleran’s struggles with mental health despite outward appearances of happiness and success at an Ivy League university. In “What Made Maddy Run,” Fagan looks closer both at Holleran’s life and the role social media and social stigma play in students’ mental health.

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The idea of distributing the book started early last fall when Jessica L. Perillo ’14, a special assistant for the Varsity Club, presented the work to administrators in Harvard’s Athletics Department. The Varsity Club and the Athletics Department gave copies of the book to athletic coaches and department administrators in December, and then to varsity captains on Wednesday.

Perillo, a former member of the women’s softball team, said that she wanted to share the book with current athletes after seeing parallels between her own experience as an Ivy League athlete and the struggles that Holleran faced. Perillo was a student at Harvard when Holleran took her life in Jan. 2014.

“I remember when the incident happened. Unfortunately, it was during my time at college and I remember hearing about it,” Perillo said.

“I thought, if I could relate to this story, then there must be so many others that can relate to it too,” Perillo added. “There was a little bit of comfort of knowing that I wasn’t kind of alone feeling that way as a student-athlete.”

Jay D. Hebert ’18, captain of the men’s track and field team, said that he thought the book would give Harvard athletes an opportunity to look at their own lives from a new perspective.

“As student-athletes, I think we get absorbed in that world sometimes,” Hebert said, referring to the competitive nature of Division I college athletics added to the rigor of Ivy League academics. “The book is a good opportunity to sort of step out and see it from a different perspective.”

Perillo said that the Varsity Club has no plans to host formal discussions on the book. Instead, she said she hopes the book sparks discussion within athletic teams without formal conversations guided by administrators.

Hebert said he hopes that after he and his co-captain read the book they will be able to discuss it with the team.

“Through my experience, putting faith in a college kid to read this and digest it and understand everything on their own, that’s asking a lot,” Hebert said. “The more you can talk about this, the better.”

—Staff writer Madeleine R. Nakada can be reached at madeleine.nakada@thecrimson.com.

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