Grace Wisnewski didn’t play a football game for almost four months earlier this year when she took a break to look after her mental health.
After returning to action in an age group friendly between New Zealand and Australia in June, the 20-year-old is feeling better than ever and ready to play her part at this month’s Fifa U20 Women’s World Cup in Costa Rica.
In February, Wisnewski sat out a game for the Wellington Phoenix in the Women’s A-League citing her mental health situation and then decided to return home early from Wollongong, where the team was based due to Covid-19 border restrictions.
Shortly before leaving for Costa Rica, Wisnewski said at the ceremony where the U20 team were presented with their game jerseys and had a chance to celebrate with friends and family: “It was one of the best decisions I’ve made”.
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“At the time I was terrified of it, but personally it’s served me really well and I’m grateful for the support I received then and the support I received throughout the time I was trying to get better to become.
“I’ve gotten so much better, but it’s been tough. I hate missing games, I hate missing training sessions but it’s been the best for me and it’s definitely helped me a lot.”
Wisnewski’s first game since February 18 came on June 12 when the Junior Football Ferns beat their Australian counterparts 2-1 at Kiwitea St in suburban Auckland.
When she first made the decision to take a break from football, she didn’t know if she would make it to the World Cup, but after working with her psychologist and her Under-20 coaches Gemma Lewis and Nat Lawrence, a return was made -Play program introduced.
“The process was supposed to be once a week for a while and then twice a week,” Wisnewski said, “but it didn’t take me long to change that and just get back in full because I missed it and I miss everyone.” .”
Wisnewski said she’s feeling better than ever after sharing “a little bit” of the history of her mental health struggles in an open letter she posted to Instagram in May.
“I’m not saying I still don’t fight sometimes because everyone does, but I think I’ve learned to control that better and make sure a bad day doesn’t turn into a bad week. I can control that and go out there and go ahead and do it.
Wisnewski loves to write and is always jotting things down in the Notes app on her phone.
She began the letter, which she published in May entitled “Dear mental illness…” while in isolation with Covid-19, and although it was a bit overwhelming to see it so widely shared, including by Fifa, the global governing body of the football, she also knows that telling her story in her own words has helped her as she prepares to play again and hopefully will help others.
“I find that reading other people’s stories helps me a lot,” Wisnewski said.
“I finished it and about two days later I posted it. It all happened very quickly so I didn’t really think about it that much but I talk a lot about wanting to help people and I just hope it helped at least one person.”
In her letter addressing her mental illness, Wisnewski explained how she struggled on and off for at least four years while finishing high school and forging a football career in Hamilton and Auckland, as well as for New Zealand, which led to her being signed by Phoenix for their inaugural campaign at the last summer.
She was one of the stars as New Zealand made history by finishing third and winning bronze medals at the 2018 Fifa U17 Women’s World Cup in Uruguay. She won two player-of-match awards and scored three goals, including two, as her side beat Canada in the third-place playoff, but in her letter she revealed that “the best month of the year [her] Life” was “one of the hardest”.
“I was so scared to play,” Wisnewski wrote. “You told me I wasn’t good enough, that I shouldn’t have been there, that there are people better than me. You scared me at a time when all I needed was strength. I was 16 years old and living my dream. I wish I could have just enjoyed the moment.”
The next step after this World Cup was supposed to be the Fifa U20 Women’s World Cup 2020 but it was canceled as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, leaving the vast majority of the history-making U17 side missed a tournament, that they were looking forward to so much.
As one of the younger players from the 2018 squad, Wisnewski was still eligible to play at this year’s U20 World Cup and she is looking forward to making the most of the opportunity when her campaign begins this week.
“The last few months have been great for me,” said Wisnewski, who hopes to re-sign for the Phoenix for a second season in the A-League Women next summer.
“It was tough – nobody really talks about how hard it is to recover from being like ‘I don’t play anymore’ – but it was good.
“Coming home early from the Phoenix is probably the best thing I’ve ever done and I feel better than ever.
“I’m very happy with how I’m feeling and how I’m doing and grateful to be back on the pitch and able to come to this World Cup.”
Junior Football Ferns – FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup 2022
Kate Taylor (c), Milly Clegg, Ava Collins, Tui Dugan, Brianna Edwards, Ella Findlay, Macey Fraser, Rylee Godbold, Aniela Jansen, Charlotte Lancaster, Zoe McMeeken, Ruby Nathan, Jana Niedermayr, Emma Pijnenburg, Ava Pritchard, Murphy Sheaff , Marisa van der Meer, Te Reremoana Walker, Charlotte Wilford-Carroll, Alyssa Whinham, Grace Wisnewski
Games (NZ time)
Thursday, August 11, 8 a.m.: v Mexico; Estadio Alejandro Morera Soto, Alajuela
Sunday, August 14, 5 a.m.: against Germany; Estadio Alejandro Morera Soto, Alajuela
Wednesday, August 17, 11 a.m.: v Colombia; Estadio Nacional de Costa Rica, San Jose
Where to get help
- 1737, Need to talk? Free call or text 1737 to speak to a trained advisor.
- Fear New Zealand 0800 FEAR (0800 269 4389)
- Depression.org.nz 0800 111 757 or SMS 4202
- kids line 0800 54 37 54 for people up to the age of 18. Open 24/7.
- lifeline 0800 543 354
- Mental Health Foundation 09 623 4812, click here to access the free resource and information service.
- Trust in rural support 0800 787 254
- Samaritan 0800 726 666
- Suicide Crisis Helpline 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)
- Yellow cobblestone road 0800 732 825
- thelowdown.co.nz Web chat, email chat or free text 5626
- What works 0800 942 8787 (for 5 to 18 year olds). Telephone advice Monday to Friday from 12 p.m. to 11 p.m. and on weekends from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. Online chat is available from 3:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. daily.
- youth line 0800 376 633, free text 234, email [email protected], or find online chat and other support options here.
- If it is an emergency, click here to find your local Crisis Assessment Team number.
- In a life-threatening situation, call 111.