Allyson Eggleton lives by a formula.
Event, plus response, equals outcome. In a given race, the junior rower and her teammates on the Michigan women’s rowing team use it to spend energy only on what they can control and not any bumps thrown their way.
It seems simple enough. But when grappling with the age of COVID-19, the Big Ten canceling sports and prior personal struggles, Eggleton rode out — and continues to ride out — that mantra in the face of adversity.
“Student athletes have such a pressure put on them and are seen as these holy icons of grit, strength and perseverance,” Eggleton said. “(Know) that it’s okay to struggle too, and that we all struggle, and that it’s not anything that’s not normal.”
As a teenager, Eggleton experienced, in her own words, severe bouts of depression and anxiety. Not comfortable telling anybody, she didn’t mention it to anyone for four years until she told her doctor during her junior year of high school and finally found effective treatment methods.
That, in combination with coming to Ann Arbor, was a turning point — a renewed focus on the response, as opposed to the event.
“The lowest was towards the end of high school, so coming out of that and coming to Michigan, I was already working my way back up from like, a really dark place,” Eggleton said. “Michigan has been so helpful for me to have a community of people so passionate about what I’m passionate about.”
Whereas before Eggleton didn’t feel comfortable being vulnerable about mental health, her time at Michigan has not only enabled her to grow intrinsically, but also shaped her into a vocal advocate for student-athlete mental health. Eggleton chose to major in psychology, is a student ambassador for “The Hidden Opponent” — a non-profit that aims to “address the stigma in sports culture” — and hopes to be selected to be one of two yearly mental health liaisons that facilitate discussions between student-athletes and the athletic department.
And even though she believes that the Michigan athletic department as a whole does a good job of destigmatizing mental health and stress, she knows there’s always work to be done for every individual.
“I think there’s a culture, I can’t speak on every team’s behalf, but the culture that my team and my coaches have built up has shown me a side of Michigan athletics that is focused on being the best you,” Eggleton said. “We preach ‘The Team, The Team, The Team,’ but you can’t contribute anything to your team if you can’t keep yourself sane and happy.”
Eggleton is assured and placid when she says that, but to anyone that’s followed college athletics during the COVID-19 pandemic and the perils of canceled seasons for non-revenue sports, the rower’s demeanor only further underscores how vital being careful with her mental health habits is to her.
When Michigan rowing coach Mark Rothstein got off the phone with the Big Ten after it canceled all spring championships in March, Eggleton was haunted — the “wails of her teammates” permanently and unforgettably etched in her mind. And as the sadness of a canceled season and time of relative isolation began for athletes across the university, Eggleton, as always, had a response.
“We have a saying on the team: E+R=O,” Eggleton said. “Event plus response equals outcome, and the only thing that you can control in that formula is your response. I’ve been thinking about that a lot and how this year is looking going ahead, not just for my team but for my life, and what I can control, in the event of COVID, is my response and outlook.”
“So that’s my biggest piece of advice — focus on what you can control, the way you react and look at any situation with a glass half-full, and if it doesn’t take you far it will hopefully warp your perspective a little bit and take you down a more positive path.”
Sometimes the best Eggleton, or anyone, can do is just keep rowing and reacting — bumps along the way be damned.