The journey back to joy
A courageous Gym Dawg finds the support and self-acceptance to overcome big challenges.
Janae Janik pressured herself to be perfect.
The stress of living up to her own sky-high expectations to be the best possible student and gymnast she could be took its toll over the past few years. Today, Janae brims with confidence as she shares what she’s learned on her difficult journey.
“I’m enough,” she states. “I don’t have to be anyone other than who I am to be accepted and loved.”
With her “strength of character and remarkable spirit,” in the words of UW Gymnastics Coach Elise Ray, Janae braved serious challenges to emerge as a leader among last year’s Pac-12 championship/NCAA Nationals team — an achievement once dangerously in doubt.
Janae competed well for the Gym Dawgs her freshman year. Then, the drive to be perfect grew into depression.
“I denied it for a long time because I didn’t think I had a reason to be feeling down,” she explains.
“I was living a dream life — I had a supportive family, awesome friends, a full ride scholarship to a Division I school. So, I convinced myself I was fine.”
In addition to clinical depression and anxiety, she also developed an eating disorder. By relying on her teammates, coaches, training staff and UW sports psychologist Cassie Pasquariello, Janae gathered strength.
“This personal and difficult struggle for one of our student-athletes brought to light what a very special place the UW is,” Coach Ray says. “Janae had and continues to have an army of love and support behind her.”
Janae left school for six months, and then returned and engaged in more intensive therapy that finally helped set her on a healthy path. She also credits her Christian faith for her recovery.
“Very few people leave school with mental health issues like I had and come back to compete at a high level again,” says Janae. “I had an awesome senior night and hit on all three events. Then we went to Nationals. I was able to end my career on a redemptive note.”
Today, as a fifth-year senior majoring in journalism, she’s enjoying her classes, has taken up dance, started a faith and mental health blog, and volunteers with the team as a video editor and social media marketer.
“Not every day is perfect, but I’m happy. I’ve found a sense of purpose again,” Janae says. “By bringing my story out into the light, maybe I can help others who are struggling like I did.”