There are friends, and then there are true friends.
Katie Meyer was a true friend, in every sense of the word. If you knew her, then I’ll never be able to do her justice. If you didn’t know her, then I’ll just have to try my best.
I have this random memory that says everything to me about the kind of person she was. During my junior year at Stanford, I tore my ACL. That’s obviously an athlete’s nightmare, especially during such a critical year. Your whole routine — your whole identity — is taken away. I had an amazing group of friends who helped me get through it, but Katie always took it to a whole different level. When I finally felt strong enough to jog for the first time after my surgery, she kept saying, “Let me know the exact time you’re going to go over to physical therapy, because I gotta be there to cheer you on.”
But this was right in the middle of COVID, and the precautions at Stanford were pretty intense. We had to reserve a time at the facility and check in at the front desk in order to do anything. They made you fill out a health questionnaire and get a red stamp on your badge just to go into the building. It was serious business, and I kept telling Katie, “They’re not gonna let you in!”
But she was like, “Don’t worry, I’ll find a way.”
She had that cheeky grin on her face, like she always did.
“Who would ever say no to this? I’m certified!”
She flipped around her badge, and on the spot where we were supposed to get our safety stamps, she had written:
NAOMI’S BEST FRIEND :-)
Naturally, they turned her away at the door.
She was like, “Don’t worry. When you get on that treadmill, look for me.”
I’m thinking: O.K., classic goalkeeper behavior. You’ve lost your mind. I’ll see you back at the dorm.
If you knew her, then I’ll never be able to do her justice. If you didn’t know her, then I’ll just have to try my best.- Naomi Girma
I went into the PT room and forgot all about it. I’m doing my exercises and talking to the trainer. Finally I get up on the AlterG machine to do what was probably the slowest jog in human history, and like 10 strides in I hear this banging on the window in front of me.
It’s Katie. Sort of.
See, the whole room is covered in this one-way tinted glass, for privacy. The kind of glass where you can’t see in, but you can definitely see out. But if you smush your body up against it super hard, you can get a slight peek inside.
So all I see is Katie’s entire face smushed up against the glass, and she’s banging on the window and going “Wooooooooooo!!!!!!!!! Let’s goooooo, Nay!!! Let’s gooooo!!!! You got this!!!”
I’m jogging, trying to focus, and her face is like:
( >_< )
This went on for 10 minutes. I couldn’t stop laughing. The trainer couldn’t stop laughing. It was ridiculous. It was hilarious. It was perfect.
It was Katie.
The truest friend I ever had. The most unapologetic, positive, caring person in the world. The first person to be open and talk about her feelings. The first person you’d turn to when you needed to talk about yours. And the last person you’d think would take her own life.
On March 1, 2022, just a little over a year after that day at physical therapy, Katie died by suicide. It’s hard to process that sentence, even now. Her death shocked the entire Stanford campus, and the entire soccer world. For me, and for the rest of her close friends, it left a void in our lives that is so deep that it’s impossible to put into words.
Grief doesn’t work like you think it will. It’s not a straight line. It’s not a formula. It’s a mess.
Some days, it still feels like it just happened. Some days, you have a random memory, and you feel it all again so hard. When you lose a true friend, the hardest part isn’t the big moments. It’s actually the small ones. It’s the everyday, boring moments in life that they made so fun, and so funny, and so meaningful.
We won a national championship together. We traveled together on our dream trip to London to watch Premier League matches. We did so many cool things. But you know what I miss the most? I miss going to the Starbucks in the student union after practice to “grind” on some homework with Katie and Sophia Smith. We’d start studying for about 15 minutes before someone slammed their laptop shut and said, “Wait, real quick.”
Thus began two hours of shooting the s*** and procrastinating and laughing until it hurt. Just talking about everything and nothing, you know? Just being together and goofing around and texting the group chat, “Cruise through Starbs! Pull up!”
I miss being like, “O.K., O.K., we gotta stop. This is Stanford. Time to grind. Be serious, be serious.”
… And doing two hours of studying and two more hours of b.s. until they kicked us out of Starbs at closing time.
When you lose a true friend, the hardest part isn’t the big moments. It’s actually the small ones.- Naomi Girma
There was nothing better than that, and I miss it so much. They don’t teach you that when you’re a kid. They don’t show that in the movies. The best moments are not what you see on Instagram. The best moments are the ones in-between, when nothing is happening, and you’re with the people you love.
I remember her dancing like a goofball in the passenger seat of my car to every song.
I remember her trying a falafel for the first time and saying that it tasted like a pine cone.
I remember going for a jog through Hyde Park on our London trip, and thinking: We’re really here.
I remember every pregame, and sure, I’m talking about soccer.
I remember sitting at Starbucks late at night and talking about our futures, just kind of trying to plan our lives. The trips we wanted to take, the majors we should choose, the internships, the dreams….
Katie’s was always 1, 2, 3. It never changed.
- Play pro
- Go to law school
- Become the President of the United States
You never bet against Katie. She was going to find a way.
I was a lot more indecisive. I remember she would always tell me, “You’re going to make the national team, Nay. You’re going to play in the World Cup.”
And I’d be like, “Ugh, I don’t even know … I really hope so.…”
She’d say, “No, it’s happening, Nay. Trust me. It’s happening.”
Well, my friend….
You were right. You were always right.
None of this would have happened without you. You touched so many people’s lives in just 22 years. You wanted to change the world more than anyone I’ve ever known.
So we’re going to make sure that we carry on your legacy. We’re going to make sure that your light never goes out.
With the help of Sophia Smith, Sofia Huerta, and many of my teammates on the USWNT, we’ve partnered with Common Goal to launch a mental health initiative during this World Cup that we hope will save lives.
We know how important it is to destigmatize the conversation around mental health, especially for the millions of young people around the country who will be watching this World Cup, so FOX Sports will be dedicating 1% of its broadcast coverage to spotlighting the importance of mental health across all its platforms.
We know first-hand how many people, especially student athletes, are struggling in silence, and we want to use our platform in this huge moment for something bigger than soccer.
It’s exactly what Katie would have done. But she never would have stopped there.
We don’t want this to end simply at awareness. We want to make sure that young people have the tools to cope with depression, anxiety, stress, and the very bad days, when it feels like the weight of the world is on their shoulders, and it can never get better.
It can always get better.
After the World Cup, we’re going to send out mental health professionals to youth sports organizations in communities across the country, to make sure that the coaches and players have the tools and skills to know when someone is dealing with a mental health issue, and how to get the proper help.
This is personal for me, and for everyone who knew Katie.
I’ll be honest, it’s not easy to talk about this on the eve of a World Cup. It’s still very raw for me. I know what an honor it is to be a part of a World Cup team. I know all about the pressure and expectations.
But I know how precious life is, too. I know how many people are suffering. I know that the people who are smiling the most, and laughing the loudest, and loving people the hardest, and shining the brightest … sometimes, they’re going through things that you could never imagine.
We know first-hand how many people, especially student athletes, are struggling in silence, and we want to use our platform in this huge moment for something bigger than soccer.- Naomi Girma
We want to help them shoulder the burden.
If we have one mission, it’s for young people to feel less alone.
With Katie Meyer in your life, you were never alone. She was always there. She’d always find a way. She’d be pressed up against the glass, banging on the walls, saying, “Nay, I’m here!!! Let’s go, Nay!!! You got this!!! You got this!!!”
If you could bottle her energy, the world would be a much better place.
Through this project, her spirit, her warmth, and her legacy will live on. We will make sure of that.
This World Cup is for you, my friend.
For more information information on how the USWNT and Common Goal have united to ensure mental health conversations can become a focus in soccer during the 2023 World Cup, click here.