Kate Fagan, author and ESPN columnist, visits Midtown Scholar Bookstore on Wednesday, Aug. 23 to talk about her new book, What Made Maddy Run.
Fagan’s book tells the story of 19-year-old Madison Holleran. Holleran appeared the epitome of the all-American girl who had everything going for her. But as she started college, she became a shell of her former self in a matter of months and ultimately took her own life.
Fagan uses direct text messages, emails, and social media posts to bring the reader directly into Maddy’s mind as she went through these changes.
The book also pulls from Fagan’s personal experiences and references articles and studies from mental health professionals to give the reader more of a look at what Maddy might have been going through.
Maddy looked to have it all. She was a star track athlete going to an Ivy League school, the University of Pennsylvania.
This was, in Maddy’s mind, the start of the four best years of her life.
But, after just a few short weeks into college, Maddy found this was not the life she had dreamed of.
As a high school student, she was at the top of everything. She won state championships and was a straight-A student.
But when Maddy got to college, she realized she was back at the bottom. She was running cross-country for the first time ever, and she felt like she was struggling in school.
This led her to think about leaving Penn and quitting track, although she never did go through with either option.
Fagan writes about how these circumstances made her see part of herself in Maddy. Fagan played basketball at the University of Colorado but grew apathetic and started to hate the game.
Through Maddy’s text conversations with her friends, it’s easy to tell she was unhappy, but she quickly brushed it off as “growing pains.”
By the time anyone really started to notice what was going on with Maddy, it was too late.
On the night of Jan. 17, 2014, she jumped off a nine-story parking garage and died.
With the book, Fagan revisits her original story about Maddy, “Spit Image,” which first appeared in ESPNW.
“It was the response to “Spit Image” that made me feel like there was more to say,” said Fagan. “I got tons of emails from students who saw parts of themselves in Maddy. Within the emails, there were always questions about her social media. They wanted a little bit more.”
Fagan looks at Maddy’s social media, mainly her Instagram. She talks about how happy she always looked in the pictures, no matter what she was actually feeling.
Her pictures look like a normal college student’s timeline. There are pictures with friends at parties or teammates at track meets, always smiling.
Fagan talks about how in social media, we always want to look happy and project that to our followers.
While Maddy looked happy, she was anything but that deep down. So much so that she started to reach out for professional help.
Fagan writes about Maddy’s struggles to find help with her problems through the school. She was made to wait two weeks before seeing anyone, and when she did, Maddy didn’t get the help she needed.
In part, Fagan wanted this book to shed light on the mental health issues that can affect college athletes.
“I want athletic departments to put on the front burner how they are engaging with mental health issues with their athlete by hiring more professionals with more resources and understanding,” said Fagan.
In addition to jump-starting mental health care at colleges across the country, Fagan also hopes this book provides the impetus for kids and parents to engage in a conversation about the college transition.
“I want parents and kids talking about what college might be like for them,” said Fagan. “You can end up tricking yourself into thinking it is going to be amazing when you are sixteen.”
Connecting with the book
While reading this book, I saw a bit of myself in Maddy. Not to the extent that she felt, but I did face some of the same struggles.
I started out at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown and couldn’t have hated it more. It wasn’t right for me. From the college life to the classes I was taking, I hated it.
Unlike Maddy, I moved on from those struggles to start at Penn State after just a semester at UPJ. I wondered how different Maddy could have been if she had made the switch to a different school.
This book shows that these aren’t rare occurrences and if you are struggling with this, you are not alone.
Fagan’s book can be a guide for those people who have been there and want to see that there is a way to reach out.
The Holleran family has created the Madison Holleran Foundation with the mission to prevent suicides and assist those in a crisis situation with a variety of resources.