My mission is to inspire and mentor BIPOC women on how to overcome struggles such as my own and provide a platform that is positive and educational. I want to provide a space where we can learn from one another and grow as women.
Saroya Tinker is currently a professional women's ice hockey player for the PHF's Toronto Six. She previously graduated from Yale University with her Bachelors of Arts in The History of Science, Medicine and Public Health. In addition to her studies she played on the Yale Varsity Women's Ice Hockey team. Since graduating, Saroya has found a passion for educating others and using her social media platforms to encourage and provide resources for others. By doing so, Saroya has decided to provide a mentorship program for young women of color. She feels confident in her abilities to educate and provide a positive role model-like figure for our worlds up and coming BIPOC women.
Growing up, I was one of four children and the only girl. I never thought much of being the only girl until it came time to participate in sports. I began with gymnastics and dance and that progressed to ice hockey, soccer and basketball. My athletic ability was greater than my peers and it showed in all areas. Academically I excelled as well. I was the top student in my class each year since I could remember. My parents never had to force me to do my homework or go to practice. The concept of hard work seemed to come naturally to me. I have always been so focused on my goals that now, when I look back as a young adult, I often neglected myself and my self care.
As a Black woman, I felt the pressure to be the best at everything I participated in. Whether it was staying up all night to finish my lab homework or working out for hours each day, I knew that this is what it would take to make it to where I am currently standing. Although I do not have any regrets in regards to my success, I do regret my lack of attention to my mental health. Being an African-American female athlete most definitely comes with its challenges as I have experienced this first hand. With the stereotypes and stigmatizations placed upon Black women, I knew I was grouped into these specific categories. With this being said, I have never loved my body and struggle to this day to do so. My eating disorder developed at the age of 12. At this point in my athletic career, I was the tallest girl on all my teams. Taller and bigger than all the boys, stronger than most as well. I thought I was overweight; not fit enough. I thought I did not look like other girls. I felt like I needed to change this about myself. I began dieting and running everyday. I said it was to improve at my sport but the truth was that I was starving myself to look the way I thought I should look. As an athlete, I found out quickly that simply starving myself was not going to work. I would have no energy at practice, my teammates could see my weight-loss and questions would be asked. So, I would starve myself throughout the week, only have a small snack before practices and would binge eat on the days I had to play. This left me with what I thought was a balance. I could maintain my weight, eat as little and then as much as I wanted to, all while feeling as if I was in control of how I felt and looked. Having begun this process at such an early age, I hate to admit it but my eating disorder and habits still follow me to this day. I still, as a female-athlete, feel as though I am unhappy with my body. My large buttocks and thighs, my breasts, my stomach, all do not appeal to me when I look in the mirror. Although these features seem to be appealing to the men around me, I feel as if I do not meet the expectations of myself, I will never be fully satisfied. I am learning though. I am learning that I am Black and I am beautiful. I am learning that my health matters above all else. I am learning that as we improve upon our medical knowledge, the impact mental health plays in African-American women and more specifically athletes, can be greater than many other circumstances.
Through sport I feel as if I have found every part of myself; my strengths, my weaknesses, my loves and my hates. As I express to you, my story and struggles in regards to my mental health, the only reason I have been able to come to terms with this is due to knowing my body incredibly well as an athlete. I know what it takes to refocus during a game. I know what it takes to remain in shape and I am aware of the hardwork that must be put in day in and day out. But what I do not know is why I was unable to overcome my mental health struggles while playing the sport I love. Growing up, I found a love for sports; in particular, the sport of hockey. Although hockey is seen as a typically White sport, I excelled from an early age and while at the arena, was never bothered by the White space I was in each day. Sure, I thought about what it would be like to have another Black teammate but this was the last of my worries as I loved the sport so dearly. But, playing hockey most definitely came with its challenges; both mentally and physically. I have always questioned my place at the rink. Having come this far, playing hockey at the NCAA Division I level, I feel a sense of accomplishment not only through sport but within my character as well. Now, I feel as though I can speak to how racism in sports affects those who participate and also help others grasp a better understanding as to why this needs to come to an end. Slavery is in fact, what has established the Black body at the bottom. Being mixed; my father Jamaican and my mother Ukrainian, I have had my fair share of confusion at the rink having one White parent and one Black. My mother, being white, had a white parent from the opposing team ask her which one was her daughter. My mom, being so very proud of her children, proudly stated that number 71 was her daughter. The parent of the opposing team looked onto the ice, spotted me, and said “I see, cross-breeds make the best athletes, she looks good out there.” This man seemed to think of me as some sort of animal. I am a human being, I am not a dog, nor have I been “crossbred”. Additionally, because my teammates lack the understanding of the African- American community and that of white supremacy, they fail to recognize that the ideology underlying racist practices often include the idea that humans can be subdivided into distinct groups that are different due to their social behavior and their innate capacities, as well as the idea that they can be ranked as inferior or superior. In this case, I am, and always will be, inferior to my White teammates. Due to this, I felt as though I had to surpass others expectations of me in my sport and consistently made sure that no doubt could be placed upon me when it came to my coaches and my playing time. The doubt I had for myself was enough. In my sport, others would often doubt my ability to play until they saw that I was a starter and would often assume that I was in fact, not as good as the other white girls on my team simply because I am Black and ice skating is not something that is familiar to most African-Americans. I was a rarity. My attitude and work ethnic defied others expectations of me. I am in fact good at what I do. I have had the opportunity to represent my country on the international stage, not only once but multiple times and I have done so while being the only person of color on my team. My success was my way of showing those who doubted my abilities that I was worthy of all I had accomplished. Over the course of my 18 year career, the battles I faced were nothing in comparison to the battles I faced in my own head.
Diagnosed with depression my freshman year of college, the pieces of my mental puzzle seemed to come together. It was almost as if I realized why I am the way I am. I knew why I had always seemed to be in a deep dark hole when it came to my mind. Outwardly, I am an outgoing, goofy and loving individual but in my mind I was quiet, hurting and unstable. It was not until I began seeking help that I was able to pinpoint the areas of my life that caused me the most pain and pressure. One of the main areas of stress and depression came from my sport. Pushing myself to my physical abilities for forty plus hours a week, attending class and submitting homework, while maintaining a positive social life came with its challenges. Despite all this, I enjoyed having a full schedule. I enjoyed it because if I had something planned for every second of the day I had little time to sit down and let my thoughts wonder within my head. On my bad days, I thought I was not enough for anyone. I felt that I should be adding more responsibilities to my plate to not only meet the high expectations I have of myself to be all that I can and was made to be, but to distract myself from the sadness I felt inside each time I had a moment to think. I had good days and bad days but I knew it was my job to show up to the rink, class and my extra circulars each and every day with a positive and enthusiastic attitude. I would describe myself as a welcoming and caring individual as I am always able to be a listening ear for others but, when it comes to myself I only let others see what I wish for them to. I do not let others in deep enough to know my mental struggles because a Black female athlete attending an Ivy League institution I should be nothing but confident right? It was not until my worst day when I knew I needed to let others into my heart and mind in order for them to understand what I was going through. On that day, thoughts of taking my own life flooded my mind as I became overwhelmed one day at the arena. I did not want to go home after practice as I knew I would be alone and with these thoughts I never could have imagined having running through my mind, I knew I should seek help. Finally gaining the mental strength to walk home, I made the effort to use Yale Health’s urgent care services. I walked in and was able to speak with a professional about the thoughts I was having and discuss further options for treatment and care for my depression. Growing up, no one ever thought that a girl like me; beautiful, talented and intelligent could have issues as such. That is not how depression works though. After realizing and accepting the amount of help I truly needed, I wondered how many other Black women felt similarly.
I tell this short story of my own mental health battles and experiences with racism in sport not to obtain sympathy from others, but to display a first hand example of the struggles Black female athletes face on a day to day basis when it involves those who struggle mentally. I challenge for there to be more questions asked, more research done and more experiences shared within the African-American community. When you take away the physical side of whichever sport one plays, the mental aspect of the game is equal to the physical. In regards to the African-American community, that of slavery, objectification and the sexualization of the Black female body has played a role in the ways Black women today portray themselves and are respected and/or disrespected in American society.