Book Review- What Made Maddy Run: The Secret Struggles and Tragic Death of an All-American Teen by Kate Fagan

I first heard about this book while listening to the Another Mother Runner podcast about it, which you can find here. The co-host, Dimity McDowell said both she and her teenage daughter had read the book and she recommended that any parent with teenagers who might end up on an athletics team in college to read this book. Well, my teenage daughter is a runner now so I thought I should definitely read this book. Not to exclude the other co-host Adrienne Martini, who also had some helpful insight and comments of her own, having gone through depression herself and having written a book about it.

Author Kate Fagan is a sports writer for espnW, ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine and was a college athlete herself. She doesn’t have children of her own, so she can’t write from a parent’s perspective, but she does write from a former college athlete’s perspective. Fagan interviewed Madison Holleran’s friends and family, read Maddy’s phone messages, emails, and social media feeds to try to perhaps portray a bigger picture of what might have happened to lead to the tragic death of Madison Holleran by suicide.

Right from the beginning, you know what you’re getting into by reading this book because you know how it ends. What you don’t know at the beginning is just how quickly things can turn from bad to worse to desperate in someone’s life, even when things appear fairly smooth on the surface. Despite telling her closest friends and family members she was not happy at the Ivy league University of Pennsylvania, no one could have predicted she was so completely out of hope that she would take her own life.

What stands out the most to me is the pressure kids have to face during college and for most of them, there is little to no professional help when they need it. When Madison sought help from counselors at college, she was given a lengthy wait time, which to me is unacceptable. More resources need to be available, especially for freshman or new students.

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You may say pressure is nothing new; kids have always faced pressure in school that increases steadily through high school and peaks during college. True, pressure has always been there, but it does seem like the pressure kids are facing now is much greater than 20 years ago. All of this pressure results in anxiety and it seems like teens today are at an all-time high rate of anxiety. From the moment they enter middle school, they’re told they need to get good grades so they’ll get into AP and honors classes in high school, which they need to get accepted into “the best” colleges, then they need to excel in college to graduate with honors to get “good jobs.”

This is just the academic portion of the source of anxiety. When you add in athletics in college and how demanding the schedules are for college athletes, you have the perfect storm. Madison went from playing soccer, her self-professed true love in high school to running for University of Pennsylvania on a scholarship. She clearly missed playing soccer and wasn’t happy running at college partly because of the demanding schedule, to the extent that she typed a letter to her running coach explaining to him why she wanted to leave the team, and she brought her mother along for the meeting. However, her coach didn’t want to see her leave the team and ended up talking her into modifying her workouts but not leaving, to which she agreed.

Another aspect that Fagan covers thoroughly is social media and how it can downplay or mask negative feelings. For example, if I texted a friend that I had a bad day but then added in some silly emoticons, it might look like things weren’t really as bad as they were; the tone can easily be misinterpreted by the receiver. Tone is always difficult to portray electronically, whether through an email or text. Madison also was sure to always put up photos of herself and friends on Instagram that on the outside looked like everything was great.

So as a parent, what can we take away from this book? For starters, don’t assume you can just send your child off to college and everything will be wonderful- they’ll make friends, do well in their classes, and adjust easily. In fact, a majority of students that go away to college are woefully under-prepared both emotionally and physically. We aren’t doing our children any favors by doing their laundry for them all the time and never discussing difficult subjects with them. It’s the ultimate job of a parent to prepare their child to be an independent adult.

Keep the communication lines open, which you’ve hopefully done from the start with your child. Ask them how they feel about something rather than assuming how they feel. Make it clear that if they’re ever not happy about how things are going in their life, they should talk to someone about it, whether it’s a roommate, RA, counselor, friend, or family member. It should also be clear that if they want to transfer schools or drop out of a sport, that’s perfectly acceptable and while it’s a big decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly, it’s certainly a viable option.

When Madison mentioned to family members she wanted to transfer schools, she was told to wait it out just a little longer, but clearly she couldn’t wait any longer. I’m sure her family had no idea things were as dire as they were with Madison, and I think that’s a huge takeaway from the book. No one ever truly knows how another person is feeling. Maybe that’s the most important thing we all need to remind ourselves.

Did any of you play on a sports team in college and if so, what was your experience like? What about you guys with kids- do you tend to avoid “difficult” conversations with your teenagers? It’s tough, I know. Teenagers especially often become quiet or don’t want to talk about certain subjects with their parents, so it’s a fine line to walk as a parent to ask questions and get conversations going but not be so pushy you scare them away. Mental health is a subject many people shy away from talking about but it’s an important topic that needs to be discussed.

Happy running!

Donna

 

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Hiking, Bathing, and Admiring Holiday Lights in Hot Springs, Arkansas

Following my half marathon in Cotter, Arkansas, and the completion of state number 44 on my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states (race report here), I decided the best place to spend the vacation portion of my racecation was in Hot Springs. Hot Springs is about a 3 1/2 hour drive from Cotter, a small town in northern Arkansas, and is about an hour from Little Rock.

Hot Springs is the number one tourist destination in Arkansas, with more than 6 million visitors per year. It’s evident the area caters to tourists, with the plethora of tourist shops, restaurants, and hotels, along with some of the more touristy things like a wax museum. One of the big draws for outdoor lovers is Hot Springs National Park.

Hot Springs National Park isn’t your typical park, since it’s located within and around the downtown area of the city of Hot Springs. The area was first protected in 1832 as Hot Springs Reservation but did not officially become a national park until 1921. The National Park Service has the perfect recommendations for how to spend your time at Hot Springs National Park here. Admission to the park is free.

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There are several options for hiking trails within the park, with some easy and others considered moderate. We ended up hiking most of the trails while we were there. If you don’t enjoy hiking or can’t hike, there is also a scenic drive through much of the park. I recommend either hiking or driving to the Mountain Tower, where you can go to the top for some great views of the area. You can either take an elevator up or go up stairs on the outside of the tower, for the same price, $8 for adults. There’s also a gift shop at the tower.

I highly recommend taking a traditional bath at Buckstaff Bathhouse, which we did, but with a bit of warning. Buckstaff Bathhouse doesn’t take reservations so you walk in, give them your last name and what services you want, pay, and go to sit and wait (upstairs for women, first floor for men) until an attendant calls your name. My last name is admittedly not the easiest to pronounce or spell, given the prevalence of how many people have trouble pronouncing and spelling it correctly. However, my daughter and I waited, and waited for our names to be called. A couple of times they called out names that no one else answered to. I later found out they had been calling our name even though never did they say anything remotely like our last name. Only after three other women that arrived after us were called back, did someone finally realize their mistake in skipping us. One attendant told me she had called our name repeatedly and asked why we didn’t answer. I told her we were sitting there the whole time and no one said anything that sounded like our name. Lesson learned- give them a very simple last name at the front desk, something that’s impossible to screw up.

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Despite having to wait much longer than we should have upon arrival, the bath treatment more than made up for it. To begin, you have a bath drawn in a private tub that’s very long, and I’m tall so it was fantastic to actually be able to stretch out completely, where you sit in the whirlpool mineral bath first. Next, I was taken to an area where an attendant put hot towels around my shoulders and lower back. After that, I went to a sitz bath, then to a wet sauna, and finished off with a needle shower. All of this cost just $33. You can add on extras like a massage, a loofah scrub, and a paraffin treatment for hands. I’ve seriously never felt more recovered after a half marathon than I did after the race in Cotter, and I completely believe it was due to the traditional bath at Buckstaff Bathhouse.

The final thing we did in Hot Springs that turned out to be one of the highlights of our time there was visiting Garvan Woodland Gardens. Normally, November wouldn’t be an ideal time to visit these gardens since not much is in bloom then but there is a lights display that is one of the best I’ve seen and well worth a visit. Holiday Lights is open November 17- December 31 and admission is $15 for adults and $5 for children. You walk around the 4 1/2 miles of land, with different areas decorated in different themes; you can also rent a golf cart for extra admission. Don’t forget to take a peek at the stunning Anthony Chapel which as my husband put it, “is made for weddings.”

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Lily pad scene, one of my favorites from Garvan Gardens

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Anthony Chapel at night

Some of our favorite restaurants in Hot Springs include:

Superior Bathhouse Brewery

Grateful Head Pizza Oven and Beer Garden

Bone’s Chophouse (a bit away from the touristy downtown area with phenomenal service and great food)

Cafe 1217 (“gourmet to go” dine in with great-tasting healthy options)

Hot Springs, Arkansas is a fun place to spend a long weekend or a few days. There are plenty of offerings to suit pretty much anyone, whether you want a girls’ weekend at the spa, hiking at the national park, or you’re a foodie and want some great food in a scenic spot. There’s also horse racing, an amusement park, Lake Catherine State Park, a science museum, and the Gangster Museum of America. I’m not exaggerating when I say every single person we talked to seemed genuinely nice and were happy to see us and talk to us. Even with all that Hot Springs has to offer, it’s an added bonus that the people are one of its greatest attributes.

Have any of you ever been to Hot Springs, Arkansas or do you plan on going someday? I know Arkansas isn’t on the radar of many people unless they live in states nearby, but it really is a beautiful area of our country with a lot to offer!

Happy travels!

Donna