Soccer star Naomi Girma has paid tribute to her late friend and teammate at Stanford University, Katie Meyer, days before participating in the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

Girma, who is a part of the US women’s national team, published a personal essay withThe Players Tribune in honour of Meyer. The dedication also came more than a year after Meyer died by suicide at age 22.

In her essay titled, “This Is For Katie,” Girma reflected on some of her memories with the former Stanford football player and described how much their friendship meant to her.

“There are friends, and then there are true friends,” she wrote. “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.”

Girma went on to recall that after she “tore her ACL” during the pandemic, many of her friends were there to help her through it. However, according to Girma, Meyer “always took it to a whole different level”.

She described how Meyer stood outside the window of the building where Girma was doing physical therapy to cheer her on during the session, before explaining how the athlete was the “truest” friend she had.

“The most unapologetic, positive, caring person in the world. The first person to be open and talk about her feelings,” she wrote. “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.”

As Grima recalled how her best friend died by suicide on 1 March 2022, she acknowledged how her death affected students at Stanford, and opened up about her grief since.

“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,” she continued. “Grief doesn’t work like you think it will. It’s not a straight line. It’s not a formula. It’s a mess.”

The football player added that, while there are days where it feels like Meyer’s death “just happened,” there are also days when she has “a random memory” and feels her emotions “so hard again”. She then reflected on the “everyday moments” and memories with Meyer that have stayed with her.

“When you lose a true friend, the hardest part isn’t the big moments,” she wrote. “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.”

One of the things Girma missed most about her friendship with Meyer, she wrote, was going to Starbucks together after practice and working on some homework.

“We’d start studying for about 15 minutes before someone slammed their laptop shut and said, ‘Wait, real quick,’” Girma added. “Thus began two hours of shooting the s*** and procrastinating and laughing until it hurt.”

The athlete specified how one memory with Meyer has now come full circle, as she recalled how her pal once told her: “You’re going to make the national team, Nay. You’re going to play in the World Cup.” After telling Meyer that she “was right,” Girma acknowledged that none of her success “would have happened without” her.

“You touched so many people’s lives in just 22 years. You wanted to change the world more than anyone I’ve ever known,” she said, referring to Meyer. “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.”

Girma explained that in order to honour her friend’s legacy, she “partnered with Common Goal to launch a mental health initiative during this World Cup that we hope will save lives” and noted that her teammates on the USWNT have helped her with this project.

“We know how important it is to destigmatise 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 per cent of its broadcast coverage to spotlighting the importance of mental health across all its platforms,” Girma said. “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.”

However, according to the football star, when the World Cup is over she plans to “send out mental health professionals to youth sports organisations 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”.

Girma confessed that, while it isn’t “easy to talk about” Meyer’s death on “the eve of the World Cup,” she still wants to pay tribute to her through her mental health initiative.

“I know what an honour it is to be a part of a World Cup team. I know all about the pressure and expectations,” she wrote. “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 want to help them shoulder the burden.”

She added: “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.

In addition to Girma’s work, Meyer’s parents, Gina and Steve, also created the Katie’s Save initiative, with the goal of “spreading awareness in support of implementing necessary changes nationwide, as well as speaking to Nationwide University Administrators to promote student safety and well-being”.

The initiative aims to create a university policy that would require an institution to send an email to a “designated advocate” of the student during different instances, such as when students have “emotional or mental health visit(s) that result in prescription medication at the Student Health Department, campus counselling office, a local ER”.

The proposed policy for Katie’s Save was first launched in June 2022, months before Meyer’s parents first sued Stanford University for the wrongful death of their child and claimed that the school “failed to respond to Katie’s expression of distress”.  At the time, university spokesperson Dee Mostofi issued a statement to reject the allegations.

“The Stanford community continues to grieve Katie’s tragic death and we sympathise with her family for the unimaginable pain that Katie’s passing has caused them,” she wrote. “However, we strongly disagree with any assertion that the university is responsible for her death. While we have not seen the formal complaint brought by the Meyer family, we are aware of some of the allegations made in the filing, which are false and misleading.”

On 22 July, Girma’s team will be playing against Vietnam’s national team in its first game for this year’s FIFA World Cup.

If you are experiencing feelings of distress, or are struggling to cope, you can speak to the Samaritans, in confidence, on 116 123 (UK and ROI), email, or visit the Samaritans website to find details of your nearest branch.

If you are based in the USA, and you or someone you know needs mental health assistance right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Helpline on 1-800-273-TALK (8255). This is a free, confidential crisis hotline that is available to everyone 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

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