D1 Gymnast and Mental Health Advocate - Interview with Anna Glenn!!
We are thrilled to introduce our latest interview with the one and only Anna Glenn!
Anna Glenn was a gymnast in the UCLA Class of 2020, and throughout her time at UCLA, she has gone through the ups and downs of mental health - from the lowest of lows to the highest of highs. Inspired by her experiences and those around her, she started the Bruin Brave campaign at UCLA, which focuses on destigmatizing mental health in the student-athlete community.
She shares her story with mental health, her experience being a Division 1 athlete at UCLA, and her journey to becoming a mental health advocate! Whether you're a gymnast, an athlete, someone passionate about mental health, or all of the above, this interview is for you! We hope you love it as much as we did!
Joyce: To start, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Anna: My name is Anna Glenn. I am a recent UCLA gymnast and graduate. I was a psychology major and I am very passionate about mental health because of the things that I’ve struggled with on my own. I was also moved by the observation of how resilient people are. I didn’t realize that so many people have so many different struggles but continue to do amazing things on a day to day basis. Experiencing college has really made me open my eyes to all of that.
Joyce: This is just a tiny warm-up question: How have you been recently? What have you been doing during quarantine?
Anna: I’ve been good. I recently moved into a new apartment here in LA, so that’s been kind of crazy.
Right now, I’m working with two different organizations as a volunteer to keep myself busy. One of them is a student-led organization that is helping people who have become financially insecure due to COVID. It’s basically just a funding project to help people pay for housing, basic needs, education materials, and other things like that. It’s a relatively new organization and we actually just filed for non-profit.
I also just recently got involved with an organization called the John W. Brick Foundation. I actually started working for them this month. They’re putting on a huge virtual global event to bring together a bunch of people who are really passionate about exercise and movement and how it affects your mental health. Generally, I’m doing a lot of stuff with mental health, which has been really fun.
I’m still in the process of finding a legitimate job, which has not been easy right now because of the virus. I’m also going to also be starting UCLA extension classes at the end of September just to kind of do some resume building and to learn different skills. I’ve just been trying to keep myself busy and it’s been going well.
Other than that, I’m just hanging out with my sister in our apartment and with a couple of friends that I still connect with in Westwood by the school. Overall, it’s been chill and busy here and there.
Joyce: How did you become interested in gymnastics?
Anna: I started when I was 2 years old. I was basically just put in gymnastics by my parents. My sister and I were both adopted from China. During our time in China, we were very malnourished and our gross motor skills and development were really delayed. Our parents put us in gymnastics for the primary reason of building strength and because we had insane amounts of energy. They wanted to find an outlet for us to use our energy, so they turned to gymnastics. Once we started getting into the competitive side of it, we enjoyed it and we were doing well, so we just kind of stuck with it throughout the years.
Joyce: What has your experience been like on the UCLA gymnastics team?
Anna: My experience with the UCLA gymnastics team has been a rollercoaster. I’d say overall, it was very, very positive. My first year was definitely one of the hardest years I had to go through, if not the hardest. I had just come off of an injury after my senior year of high school. I tore a ligament in my shoulder, so I had to sit out my senior year. Coming into college, I was rehabbing and I tore my shoulder again during our training program right before school started in September. That was really hard to deal with because I was very distant from the team, I couldn’t train, and I had to sit out all of my freshmen year.
After that, I just flipped the switch and was able to get my butt into gear. We ended up winning the national championship in my second year, so that had to be the best year of my life. I honestly think that the juxtaposition between the worst year of my life and then the best year of my life really highlighted how much of a rut I was in my freshmen year and how insanely resilient I was. It really shows how you need to go through adversaries to get to your goals and to that high point.
The last two years have been kind of up and down, with various things like dealing with minor injuries and whatnot. I didn’t compete this year because of injuries as well. I’d say I had an insane group of people that I was surrounded with every day, and I just enjoyed being with those people.
Regardless of the outcome and regardless of the fact that I didn’t really compete that much, I really enjoyed the time on the team. We had a lot of fun, and we really had the “work hard, play hard” mentality. It was a lot, a lot of fun, and I don’t regret any of it. It really made me who I am today, as cliche as that is. I went through a lot with that team, and I learned a lot of lessons.
Joyce: How has gymnastics and being on the team changed your life and shaped you to be the person you are today?
Anna: I think gymnastics, in general, is a very tough sport, so being able to go through a sport that requires so much commitment and dedication made me someone who is very loyal to my work and someone who is very determined to reach goals of mine. I think that can translate my motivation and determination from gymnastics into whatever I do after college and gym and into my work experiences.
We’ve made so many great memories and so many great friendships and have been able to connect with so many amazing people throughout the years. On the team, we have amazing donors and amazing supporters of our team. Being able to connect with them, talk with them, hear their stories, and be a part of their lives is really inspiring. It’s made me realize how important it is to have great connections with people and to keep up with those relationships.
Gymnastics has been part of my life for so long and now it’s like I’m closing a door on that and I’m moving on. This has made me realize that this community is something that is special and is a unique bond and an experience that not many people get to have. It’s just something that is going to be great to have in my memory for the rest of my life.
Joyce: Part of this organization is related to mental health, and I know that it can be a touchy subject, but if you’re comfortable, could you tell us a little bit about your mental health journey?
Anna: I’d say my freshmen year was when I kind of realized that mental health was something that I have battled with. The fall quarter of my first year (my first quarter at UCLA) was when I was hit with a wave of depression just because I wasn’t able to connect with the team. I was having issues with the transition of going to college and being across the country. It’s difficult and there was a lot of learning that had to be done in a short amount of time.
It was really tough for me to deal with all of that while having to figure out school, which was also super overwhelming. I just kind of shut down and I really couldn’t figure out how to handle myself emotionally. That whole year was really tough for me. I gained a lot of weight, which affected how I was feeling. It was just an uphill battle for pretty much the duration of that entire year.
Then, I had the greatest year of my life following that, so I didn’t really have any issues during my sophomore year. Again, I was dealing with a lot of injuries during my last two years, so that really took a hit on me.
This past year, I got hit with another wave of depression and I think that one was just as strong, if not stronger, than the one that I had my freshman year. I wanted to be able to play out my last year and go out on top because I felt so confident that I could do it and that I had these past 3 years of experience. I thought that this was my time to shine and that I’d be able to show everyone how hard I’ve been working over these past 3 years and really prove myself, not that I necessarily needed to, but that was kind of the mindset that I was in coming into that year.
And then, I had a lot of back problems during that year, my shoulder flared up again, and I was recovering from a knee injury as well from the previous year. There was a lot of stuff going on, and on top of all that, the stress of knowing that my gymnastics career was ending and that I would have to start fully adulting the year after was very overwhelming to me.
Everything was just kind of in the back of my mind, so I just got very overwhelmed and just couldn’t grasp a handle on my emotions. It was really, really, tough. I wanted to quit during the fall quarter of my senior year because I felt so stuck and lost. I didn’t feel like I belonged on the team anymore because of the injuries.
I think being done with gymnastics was a huge relief for me. Knowing that I don’t have to go through that battle of if I’m going to compete or not, if I’m going to be in the lineup or not, or if I’m traveling or not. Those “if” questions had been bugging me the whole year and the whole season, so it was kind of a relief just to be free from all the stress. I also got really excited about the things I was doing outside the gym, which is what kept me going.
I had a really great support system. My teammates, my coaches, and my friends outside of athletics really helped me get through that tough time. Now, I’m really great, I feel confident in the work that I’m doing. I’m kind of putting gymnastics in my past now, and it’s not something that I truly want to associate with right now, just because I feel like I’ve had all this time to dwell on it, but now is a time for me to look forward into my future, pick up new things, and get out of my comfort zone. So here I am and I’m feeling good about everything.
Joyce: Can you tell us a little bit about your Bruin Brave campaign and what inspired you to start it?
Anna: The Bruin Brave campaign is something that I stemmed off of other people who I’ve heard started their own mental health campaigns on their campuses through the athletic department. I was really close with Olivia Lubarsky, who was a gymnast at Towson University and started the Own Your Roar campaign there a couple of years back. I also got connected with Taylor Ricci and Nathan Braaten who started the Dam Worth It campaign at Oregon State. Those three people and two organizations were especially good influences for me trying to bring that to UCLA.
Again, as I said, I saw so many people who have injuries and different struggles in their life but are still able to perform at their top. That was really inspiring for me to bring it to light at UCLA. Knowing that UCLA is such a high profile university with great athletics and is a school that is always watched, I felt that it was very important for us to bring this and show that resiliency is something that we really value and that mental health is something that is just as important as physical health.
So that’s just kind of the motto of it all. I just wanted to open it up to everyone that watches UCLA and just to kind of help with the stigmatization of mental health. I’m just kind of helping to push that effort forward.
Joyce: It’s really cool how you were able to do different sports events with the campaign.
Anna: Yeah, that was so exciting. That happened my senior year and unfortunately COVID kind of cut it all short because we had other games planned and I was so bummed about that, but I’m glad we got 2 out of it.
The one for the gymnastics team was especially successful because we had like 7,000 people in the stands. It was huge and so many people came up to me after the meet and were like “Oh my god! I love the video that you put out!” It was just amazing and I got so much positive feedback from it that just made me feel so great because I knew that it was actually making an impact.
People were also reaching out to me after this past video on Youtube came out about it with the New Era. I was like “Ugh this is so great, everybody’s recognizing it and people are starting to make moves and it’s just so exciting to see.”
Joyce: So now that you’ve graduated, is that campaign going to continue on campus?
Anna: Yeah, I’m hoping to pass it on to some people. We do have a group on campus through the athletic department called Student-Athlete Mentors, which I was co-president for along with someone else that was on the soccer team and someone that was on the track team as well.
We kind of launched the mental health campaign through that organization, so I’m hoping that whoever becomes in charge of that group this year can continue on with the project. There are a lot of visions and goals that I have for the campaign that I want to see forward. I think it’s just a matter of me communicating that and creating a committee that can hold on to the campaign and work towards the goals that I had set out for. Hopefully, it will work out. I mean COVID’s so difficult. This whole year is going to be remote, so that’s not going to make it easy whatsoever, but we will try.
Joyce: Personally for you, do you have any plans for the future? Careers?
Anna: I’m still trying to figure that out right now. One thing that I am passionate about is helping other people, so I think that one thing I was considering is occupational therapy.
This past summer, I worked with this group that helped kids with autism. We helped babies with their developmental skills. It was this internship program that kind of made me realize how much I love working with little kids. I was thinking maybe I should do pediatric occupational therapy.
That’s like something that I’m interested in pursuing, but I haven’t really weighed my options yet and figured out if that’s something that I’m completely dead set on. I would also, of course, have to go to grad school for that. I kind of just want to take a break because I know that I would be burned out if I went to school right off the bat after finishing undergrad. I’m going to give myself a year or two to explore other things right now and come back to it later.
I’m also really interested in doing media design, and I do photography on the side for myself. Digital media with tech companies and agencies is something that I’m interested in right now. I’m trying to pursue that a little bit, hopefully as my starting point to kind of work from there.
Joyce: Do you have any advice for student-athletes in terms of time management or keeping up with life in general?
Anna: It’s something that everyone has to figure out on their own. The workflow is something that is more individualized.
Don’t wait to ask for help until it’s too late. Don’t be hesitant to ask for help. Nobody can do anything alone, so it’s not a weakness to ask for help. If anything, I think it’s more of a strength because you can have other people helping you and you can reach the potential that you probably couldn’t reach on your own. It’s just a matter of trying to figure out who are going to be your best supporters.
Make sure you surround yourself with people who uplift you. Always have your mind set on goals, and don’t be afraid to reach them.
Joyce: Kind of going along with that, do you have any advice for athletes who might be struggling with mental health?
Anna: Again, the whole thing about not being afraid to ask for help. I’ve used therapy over the past 4 years and I’ve used my sports psychologist, and I’ve really valued the relationship I’ve built with her. I think that being able to open up to someone so vulnerably has really helped me come to terms with how I’m feeling and what I’m dealing with at that time.
I think it’s important for you to acknowledge how you’re feeling so that you can come on top of that and take steps to move forward. If you don’t acknowledge it, I feel like you’re just trying to forget about it and by forgetting about it, you’re not really going to do any preventative measures or do anything to push yourself forward.
Just reach out to people that you can trust. Therapy isn't for everybody. It’s just kind of trying different things to find what will work for you and making sure that you’re supporting others that are going through the same situation. It’s a matter of collaboration, helping everybody else, trying to do what is best for you.