By the students, for the students of Central Washington University

The Observer

By the students, for the students of Central Washington University

The Observer

By the students, for the students of Central Washington University

The Observer

Beyond the field: unveiling Tyler’s story and Hilinski’s Hope for mental health

Mark Hilinskis presentation outlines that Tylers story is one that aims to inspire both hope and awareness towards the cause. (Photo courtesy of Dania Cochran)
Mark Hilinski’s presentation outlines that Tyler’s story is one that aims to inspire both hope and awareness towards the cause. (Photo courtesy of Dania Cochran)

In the various roles he embodied – as a son, brother, teammate and friend – Tyler Hilinski, the spirited Washington State University football player, was described as the bright light in any room. Known for his infectious happiness and approachable demeanor on and off the field, he was someone that anyone could turn to. However, on Jan. 16, 2018, this light dimmed when Tyler Hilinski died by suicide.

The Hilinski’s Hope Foundation aims to convey a message of raising awareness, breaking down stigma and instilling hope for the mental health of student-athletes within the CWU community by telling Tyler Hilinski’s story.

“The fatal mistake for Tyler may have been that he was just too anxious to let anybody else know and he wanted to take that secret with him,” Tyler Hilinski’s father and co-founder of the organization, Mark Hilinski said. “If he had simply said ‘maybe I should talk to someone,’ that might have been the beginning of a lifetime treatment and the beginning of dealing with the issue instead of having to deal with suicide.”

Mark Hilinski expressed what the foundation hopes to relay through telling Tyler Hilinski’s story. The intent is to resonate with students, athletes and other community members, a sentiment he emphasized during an on-campus demonstration held on Thursday, Nov. 2.

“Hope is what we’re trying to get through that series of storytelling about Tyler, and I think that everybody can get something out of this,” Mark Hilinksi said.

As outlined in the presentation, mental health can take a lot to own up to, particularly for student-athletes who may endure added pressure of meeting expectations and fulfilling responsibilities.

Kym Hilinski, Tyler Hilinski’s mother and co-founder of the organization, directed her focus towards addressing student-athletes struggling with mental health issues.

“We tell them all the time that it’s a strength. It takes a lot of courage,” Kym Hilinksi said regarding individuals seeking out help. “That ‘courage’ word is not [often] associated with reaching out for help, but it [should be] … they are taught to be strong and to grind through tough practices, maybe an injury, and so they say to themselves ‘okay I have to be strong,’ but you have to reach out if you’re struggling.”

At the core of the Hilinski’s Hope Foundation’s mission is the commitment to fostering awareness and dismantling the stigma associated with mental health among student-athletes.

Mark Hilinski elaborated more on the significance of these missions for the foundation and detailed the ongoing efforts of the organization.

“Awareness hasn’t been fixed yet, but I think we’re doing such a great job collectively by continuing to have these conversations,” Mark Hilinski said. “We’re seeing an improvement in resources and a better trend towards coaches understanding this issue, but if we can’t get the student-athletes to ask for help, then all of those resources go to waste.”

The stigma that Mark Hilinski and the foundation look to eradicate is one where athletes feel shame in confiding in their peers and pursuing support.

The Hilinski’s Hope event serves as a platform not only for Mark and Kym Hilinski to share Tyler Hilinski’s story but also as an opportunity for the CWU community to come together.

Dania Cochran, secretary to the Board of Trustees and the event organizer, expressed the importance of having the CWU community gather to engage with Tyler Hilinski’s narrative.

“When Mark and Kym tell their story, they make it relatable. When the CWU and Ellensburg community showed up to hear Tyler’s story, they saw real people who are impacted deeply by a tough decision,” Cochran said. “As an audience member, you feel it and witness that emotion, and that kind of reaction really resonates … it’s a lesson we’ve all heard and [that] will stick with us, but we hope we never have to go through it.”

Kym Hilinski underscored that student-athletes are significant contributors to their communities far beyond their participation in athletics. In her perspective, understanding and acknowledging the multifaceted identities of these individuals is essential to promoting a community that is both nurturing and empathetic.

In addressing CWU athletes, Kym Hilinski imparted the message that: “they matter [and] to ask for help if they ever need it.” Her words encapsulate the testament to the importance of acknowledging one’s self worth and the power in seeking support when necessary.

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