Parents of Tyler Hilinski launch effort to help student athletes
Friends and family who knew Tyler Hilinski never suspected that the popular Washington State University student and talented football player was secretly suffering from depression.
“In a nutshell, Tyler was the happiest kid I ever had met,” Tyler’s mom, Kym Hilinski, told KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson.
The 21-year-old quarterback committed suicide at his Pullman apartment in January. Police found Hilinski, along with a rifle and a note, during a welfare check after he failed to show up for practice.
The news astounded Cougars fans throughout the Pacific Northwest who knew Tyler only as the smiling guy on the football field. No one, however, was more shocked and devastated than Tyler’s family. Kym was admitted to the emergency room after hearing the horrible news.
“You get a call like that — it takes you to a place you don’t ever think your mind or body can go,” Kym said.
Kym said that she has gone through the loss of parents and other family members, but none of these pains compared to losing her child — especially in a manner so unexpected.
“I can tell you that there were no signs,” Kym said. “He never showed any signs of depression — he never really got upset.”
She pointed out that the family had spent a week in a hotel suite together shortly before Tyler’s death. The college athlete seemed in good spirits, and if anything was troubling him, he didn’t bring it up to his parents.
“He took losing really hard, so that might have been a piece of it,” said Kym, who has talked to a variety of some of the country’s top sports psychology specialists across the country since January.
In her talks, Kym found that “there are a lot of stressors out there for kids, especially student athletes.” This gave Tyler’s family an idea for how to turn their grief into a positive, life-changing force for other kids.
To honor Tyler’s memory and ensure that he keeps helping and inspiring other athletes for years to come, the Hilinski family founded Hilinski’s Hope, a nonprofit that aims to “erase the stigma that’s associated with mental illness,” “raise awareness” of disorders such as anxiety and depression, and “fund programs that promote student athletes and their mental health,” according to Kym.
“If we talk about mental illness and mental health the same way we talk about other diseases that kill people, it will change the narrative,” she said. “We’ll look at things differently, and if people grow up with that, it won’t have that stigma.”
Hilinski’s Hope will work with schools, conducting trainings for athletes to spot signs of depression in their teammates, educating students on types of mental illnesses, and giving them the means to seek treatment.
“I know if we can help one person, Tyler will be proud of us,” Kym said, adding, “He’s going to live on through our hearts, our memories, and through Hilinski’s Hope.”