Alex Storako traded the maize and blue for the crimson and cream when she transferred from Michigan to OU.
But she didn’t leave behind every part of her old game-day uniform.
She brought her green ribbon to Norman.
Every game, whether she’s pitching for the Sooners or sitting, Storako wears it in her hair, usually tied in a bow around her ponytail or braid. She started wearing it last season after Stanford soccer goalie Katie Meyer committed suicide; a green ribbon is the international symbol for mental health awareness.
“It’s really important to me,” Storako said. “It’s something that hits home really hard.
“I’ve actually struggled with mental health since high school.”
She wants people to know it’s OK to talk about such things.
OK to ask for help, too.
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That’s a message she wants to spread further and wider as the No. 1 seeded Sooners start play in the NCAA softball tournament. Even though Storako played on the postseason stage before ― Michigan made the tournament every season she was in Ann Arbor ― no team garners more attention nowadays than OU.
Storako hopes that spotlight gives her a chance to share how she feels about mental health with even more people.
“I just want to be able to use my platform for that kind of stuff,” she said. “Bring that kind of awareness and have that kind of meaning behind something I do on the field.”
Mental health, after all, is one of the reasons Storako is a Sooner.
When she decided to leave Michigan, there were several reasons. She wanted to play for a team that had a powerful offense backing her up, something she’d lacked at Michigan. She wanted to be with other good pitchers so she didn’t have to carry such a heavy load. But as much as anything, she wanted to be in a program where mental health was a priority.
OU softball has long been a program where transfer pitchers have gone and been reborn. Paige Lowary and Giselle Juarez are prime examples. Additionally, Sooner coach Patty Gasso has become a vocal advocate in recent years for athlete well-being.
More:The transfer portal isn’t all bad. Just ask Oklahoma State softball’s Rachel Becker.
All of that resonated with Storako.
“Athletes are people outside of our sport,” she told me in an interview last summer after committing to OU. “I’m a human. My identity is who I am.
“Softball is what I do, and it’s not who I am.”
Storako even penned a first-person piece for D1Softball.com recently that explored her journey to understanding that. Even though she fell in love with softball as a kid, the sport came to feel more like a chore by the time she was a high schooler in the Chicago suburb of Frankfort, Illinois.
“I went to a place in my own head that the pressure felt like I was drowning,” she wrote.
“I was the player that had to have the answers. Why didn’t we win? Why aren’t you the same? Alex, you seem so disconnected; what’s wrong? Who are you anymore?”
She felt like softball had come to define her. Winning made her a good person. Accolades meant she was something more.
So, what happened when she didn’t win?
Or when the accolades weren’t there?
Storako had to learn not to let anything or anyone define her. She admits it’s something she’s still learning. But she draws on all of her experiences, including her darkest ones.
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“My situation in high school was very deep for me,” she said. “It caused a lot of things for me, and I don’t think I’d be on this stage at OU if everything had not happened to me. So it’s a really big definition piece for me and my life personally outside the field.
“But the kind of perseverance that I learned from that situation has really kept me going.”
Last year, Storako realized she wanted to give others hope by wearing a green ribbon. Even though Meyer’s suicide that March prompted Storako to start doing so, she committed to keep wearing it after Wisconsin runner Sarah Shulze and James Madison catcher Lauren Bernett died by suicide in April.
Storako hoped the ribbon would not only raise awareness about mental health but also let anyone struggling with it know that they’re not alone.
“Just know that you are loved,” Storako said.
She is now spreading that message to an even wider audience as a Sooner. It’s an important opportunity. It’s even something she’s discussed with her roommates, fellow Sooner softball players Kinzie Hansen, Alyssa Brito and Rylie Boone.
“Hey, you’re meant to be here,” Storako remembers them saying. “You’ve worked so hard to get here. You’ve overcome a lot of obstacles to do this in this program on this stage.”
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Storako intends to relish this opportunity, not only for the awareness she might bring about mental health but also for the example she hopes to be.
Storako, after all, is having the best season of her life. The right-handed riseballer has a 17-0 record and a 0.75 ERA, fourth-best in the nation. She is allowing only 3.66 hits per seven innings, a team-best mark which also ranks in the top 10 nationally.
She also was selected by the Oklahoma City Spark as the No. 1 overall pick in the Women’s Professional Fastpitch draft last month.
Storako is living proof that mental-health struggles can become mental-health successes.
“You always are going through something, and I know a lot of other people are,” she said. “When I’m able to have that platform to show that you can come up and rise up after you fall down, I would love to share that message.”
Her green ribbon is a reminder.
So is she.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or [email protected]. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok, and support her work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.
Table of Contents
Game 1: No. 1 Oklahoma (51-1) vs. Hofstra (29-25), 4 p.m. (ESPNU)
Game 2: Missouri (34-24) vs. California (33-19-1), 6:30 p.m. (ESPN+)
Game 3: G1 winner vs. G2 winner, 2 p.m.
Game 4: G1 loser vs. G2 loser, 4:30 p.m.
Game 5: G3 loser vs. G4 winner, 7:30 p.m.
Game 6: G3 winner vs. G5 winner, 1 p.m.
Game 7: G6 winner vs. G6 loser (if necessary), 3:30 p.m.
If you or someone you know is in emotional distress or suicidal crisis, call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline any time day or night at 800-273-TALK (8255). Other resources include:
● The Crisis Text Line provides free, confidential support 24 hours a day. Text HOME to 741741.
● The National Alliance on Mental Illness provides information and resources. Call (800) 950-NAMI (6264), 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, or email [email protected].
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