After Katrina Haddad ’26 tore her ACL and meniscus, she had an identity crisis.
“I felt like because I wasn’t playing anymore, that I wasn’t valuable,” the exercise science major admitted. “After losing my sport to injury, I felt like my life was over from that injury.”
Being sidelined from playing basketball and other sports was a new feeling; from a young age, Haddad had always been involved and fascinated with sports. And as she got older, working out became a facet of her existence, too. But if she could no longer exercise or compete alongside her peers, she wondered: “Who am I?”
“Even before the injury, I would sacrifice so much for my sport … I would feel guilty for doing anything other than working out or playing,” Haddad said. “If my friends were like, ‘Let’s go out tonight and do something,’ I’d say, ‘No, I have to wake up at 6 a.m. to go work out.’ It was a cycle … I feel like I was really tunnel-visioned.”
Faced with a lengthy recovery period, Haddad knew something had to change. That’s when she discovered the Hidden Opponent, a national nonprofit dedicated to breaking the mental health stigma in athletics. “I watched Victoria Garrick’s TED Talk about the Hidden Opponent and it really opened my eyes,” she said. “I started to realize a game doesn’t depict my worth, it doesn’t depict how I should view myself, how others should view me.”
Not only did Haddad find comfort in the Hidden Opponent’s resources, but she felt a responsibility to pay that healing forward. She realized that if she was feeling lost and devalued, others must feel the same.
For her, it felt only natural to bring the Hidden Opponent to Endicott. “I wanted to create a support system so that when people go through something and want to talk, there’s a place for them to go,” she explained. “Something we really emphasize is that sports aren’t who you are, they’re something you do.”
As one of the Hidden Opponent’s campus captains, Haddad’s already been hard at work providing resources for anyone struggling. To date, she’s helped organize a five-speaker panel—featuring Hannah Prieto, a former Division I gymnast and Endicott’s current sports psychologist intern, and life coach Kaleb Joseph, a former Division I basketball player—along with several mental health awareness games and regular member meetings.
“Athletes are used to spending hours a day training their bodies but rarely spend any time training the mental side of the sport,” noted Prieto, who is pursuing an Ed.M. in counseling with a concentration in sports psychology at Boston University. “Clubs like the Hidden Opponent at Endicott normalize the idea of struggle and the demanding life of a student-athlete that is far from the glamorized version. Groups like these expose people, both in and out of the sports world, to systemic injustices and the overlooked fact that athletes are humans above all else.”
Providing support and affirmation is what the Hidden Opponent is all about. At the group’s first meeting, “we said, ‘raise your hand if you felt like you had to sacrifice family time, social time, sleep for your sport.’ Hands went up,” said Haddad. “A lot of these athletes, the only thing they know is themselves as an athlete and as a player. I want to change their minds to see: I’m me first, and then an athlete second. The human is greater than the athlete.”
Haddad believes our society still has a long way to go when it comes to openly discussing mental health matters. Born in America to Jordanian parents, Haddad noted that matters of depression and anxiety “just weren’t spoken about” in her household. “It’s nothing against [my parents], it’s just harder for older generations to kind of grasp this idea. But they’ve always supported me and they’re happy that I’m doing something that’s meaningful.”
Haddad hopes to help normalize mental health conversations across generations through her involvement with the Hidden Opponent.
“I definitely think the stigma with athletes is still very much there. People—athletes especially—still view speaking up as a weakness. And I think coaches need to treat injured athletes better,” she said.
Though the club is geared toward athletes, it is open to all students, she said.
“Our club’s main goal is to try and break that stigma and show that your mental health, and talking about it, doesn’t define how strong you are. If anything, it makes you stronger and more courageous.”