This story was originally published in the November 2021 Sexual Health and Safety issue of The DN.
In 2020, Nebraska senior tennis player Patrick Cacciatore embarked on a journey, starting his own podcast to highlight the mental health struggles athletes face.
Over a year and 39 episodes later, the “No Struggle No Story” podcast has helped both Cacciatore and his interview subjects tell their stories and try to break the stigma around mental health within athletics. Guests on the podcast included athletes in and outside of Nebraska, from a variety of sports. The podcast made a big impact on Cacciatore’s life, helping him grow as a person in the year since he started.
“I was lucky enough to hear from so many incredible people and really be able to speak from them and learn from them,” Cacciatore said. “I learned how to operate with my mental health a lot better and that I’m bigger than just being a tennis player.”
Cacciatore cites all episodes as being emotionally moving for him, each in their own unique ways. However, the one that stands out the most in his eyes was interviewing former Oklahoma gymnast and current U.S. Olympic men’s gymnastics team member Yul Moldauer for the podcast’s tenth episode. Cacciatore and Moldauer discussed staying motivated mentally and using sports for personal growth, among other topics. The interview left Cacciatore motivated and Moldauer impressed by his questions and thankful for the platform to tell his story in that fashion.
“He asked really good questions; it wasn’t just, ‘What was your schedule like?’ It was meaningful questions you could think deeply about and relate to,” Moldauer said. “All the things you went through and all the things he went through just piece together the story of being a student-athlete.”
The “No Struggle No Story” podcast has been on hiatus since July 1, 2021, after Cacciatore became busy helping student-athletes in a different way.
Cacciatore was elected president of The Nebraska Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) in April. His newfound role placed him as the representative of all student-athletes at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, giving him the opportunity to enact change both at Nebraska and across the Big Ten.
His duties include meeting with student-athletes to make sure their voices are heard, promote new initiatives for mental health and talk with Nebraska athletic director Trev Alberts about ways to make campus better for student-athletes.
“Mental health is a lot like physical health. The same way you take care of your body every day with injuries, you got to take care of your mental health every day,” Cacciatore said. “Do small things every day to make sure you’re your happiest self, and make sure you’re at your best.”
One initiative the committee has created is student-athlete wellness groups that meet every two weeks. Student-athletes attend, whether on Zoom or in-person, and discuss mental health topics such as stress or performance anxiety. The athletes listen to guest speakers and give each other advice about what they have going on in their lives.
Sophomore baseball player Brice Matthews joined the SAAC as a freshman as an opportunity to meet new people. In his sophomore year, he joined his friend Cacciatore on the mental health subcommittee and has been a regular attendee of the meetings.
“They make me feel like I’m not the only one,” Matthews said. “It gives me more goals and another perspective on what other people are going through and the things that help them that can help me.”
SAAC has also created a new subcommittee strictly devoted to student-athletes’ mental health. According to Cacciatore, the committee was created for student-athletes to have a reliable place to find somebody who empathizes with their struggles and realize that what they’re going through is not uncommon and there are ways to get help. The subcommittee aims to start the conversation about mental health that the athletes can keep going among their teammates and in their daily lives.
With the subcommittee being run by student-athletes, it can reach the student-athlete base on a personal level that outsiders can’t. The subcommittee does this by having resources on coping with injuries or the struggles of not being in the starting lineup but still wanting to be a good teammate. These and other mental health struggles that athletes face now have a place where they can be talked about and dealt with by their peers and the university’s sports psychologists.
Senior softball catcher Anni Raley first got involved with SAAC in her freshman year through the advice of her older teammates. She joined the mental health subcommittee this year, noticing the need for athletes to speak up about their mental health.
“Being mentally tough is something that we all try to attain in our sports, but there has to be the separation between athletics and your own personal life,” Raley said. “We get so busy as student-athletes, we forget to give time to ourselves.”
According to leaders Cacciatore and Raley, the subcommittee in the future looks to continue its meetings and bring in more guest speakers, including professional athletes. Raley stressed the importance of making the committee more well-known among student-athletes.
Raley started an Instagram page, @huskerwellness, to give the committee a platform and promote mental health challenges and reminders. The committee as a whole only hosts its group meetings once every two weeks, so daily content is becoming more of a focus to help reach student-athletes with their everyday struggles.
With biweekly group meetings and several upcoming goals for the committee, members like Matthews believe the committee is in good hands with Cacciatore as the leader.
“He’s such an open and caring person, and he’s there for everybody,” Matthews said. “He’s very joyful all the time and he gives inspiration. That’s why I think he’s the perfect person to lead that committee.”
Cacciatore is a senior this year, and said he hopes to make his final year count. Through his work in the advisory committee, he hopes to leave SAAC, UNL and the student body in a better place than he found it.
“I hope that people see we are a group and a family that really tries to promote mental health, that we stand together and are more unified and people can come back and say, ‘He helped do that,’” Cacciatore said. “I want to leave Nebraska in a great place for whoever precedes me. That’s my biggest goal.”