How One Donor Family Supports Athlete Mental Health—and How You Can Get Involved
by Devin Lowe
Team USA athletes face a unique set of circumstances that can affect their mental health. The pressure of being an elite athlete—as well as the four-year Olympic or Paralympic Games cycle they plan their lives around—makes every competition feel critical and magnifies every success or failure.
In the past few years, more and more Team USA athletes have been speaking openly about their struggles with mental health issues like depression and anxiety. For Yucca and Gary Rieschel, who are members of the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Foundation’s Board of Directors, athletes’ stories and bravery helped to inspire their latest philanthropic initiative.
Last September, the Rieschels made a transformative gift of $1.5 million to help athletes get the mental health support they need.
“We’ve always been passionate about the Olympic and Paralympic movements, and Team USA athletes representing us at the Games deserve the best mental health support available,” Yucca says.
Having grown up watching the Olympic Games, the Rieschels attended the Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City in 2002 and the Beijing Games in 2008, as well as the Sochi Games in 2014 and the Rio Games in 2016. Since the foundation’s inception, they’ve been active supporters and leaders on its board.
Their passion for athlete mental health, Yucca says, was sparked by working with a nonprofit whose work centers on getting teenagers and young adults active in sports and outdoor activities. In their interactions with young athletes and academics, they could see how pervasive mental health struggles were in these age groups—the same ages as many Team USA athletes who will compete on the world stage this summer in Tokyo.
“Team USA athletes face the same challenges as people their age, but they also deal with pressures that most of us will never understand,” Yucca says. “That’s why we felt it was critical to help them get the support they need to take care of their mental health.”
Thanks to the Rieschels, Team USA athletes won’t have to deal with mental health challenges on their own. The transformative gift made it possible for the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee to give all Team USA athletes access to in-person and virtual counseling as well as a 24-hour crisis line, at no personal cost. The organization was also able to hire Dr. Jessica Bartley, director of mental health services, and three mental health officers.
While Americans around the country cheer for the Olympians and Paralympians wearing the red, white and blue this summer, the Rieschels believe it’s just as important—if not more important—to support these athletes off the field of play.
“It’s important to us to raise awareness of the pressures they are under to perform, and the loneliness that many of them experience over the many years of training,” Yucca says. “There is no awareness of the gap between what our athletes need to succeed, and what has traditionally been available for them.”
The Rieschels hope their gift can be an important first step in getting athletes the mental health support they need—and in bringing the topic out into the open. Part of their gift also covers the Team USA Fund’s mental health awareness campaigns, which aim to destigmatize mental health conversations.
They also want to see their donation help athletes thrive, so Team USA can inspire the world like it’s inspired them.
“I’m inspired most not just by individuals, but the overall team representing the U.S.,” Yucca says. “The spirit of the Olympic Games and what it is supposed to be. There is an ideal of what it represents—the best of humanity.”
Join Yucca and Gary Rieschel in supporting Team USA athletes by making a donation to the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Foundation. 100% of gifts go to athletes and the programs that help them succeed on the field of play—and maximize their well-being off of it.