December 2022 AOTM: April Sykes

athlete of the month Dec 01, 2022

Welcome back to TWN’s Athlete of the Month! Each month we are highlighting athletes in our network to share what they have accomplished outside of sports, their contribution to the athletic community and more. Make sure to check out our weekly newsletter to learn more about the athlete, what motivates them, and how to contribute to their cause.

Our December Athlete of the Month is April Sykes! 

April is a former WNBA and international pro basketball player and graduate of Rutgers University. Now a skill development trainer, she works with draft prospects preparing them for training camp and their own overseas careers. She works with several male and female pros, children and college players in the Atlanta area, and also provides mentorship to many players. 

She regularly gives back to the community. You can find her hosting free basketball clinics and camps in Atlanta and in Mississippi, or donating clothes, meals, toiletries, and blankets to the homeless. 

A passionate and outspoken advocate for mental health awareness for athletes, April hopes to work towards creating her own non-profit to provide mental health support and affordable resources to athletes and non-athletes. 

She often shares her personal experiences as an athlete dealing with mental health and the challenges and injuries she faced throughout her career. April hopes to encourage everyone, especially athletes, to prioritize their mental health, start therapy and become better mentally.

April joined our Prioritize YOU Summit back in April 2022. On our panel “How to Prioritize Your Mental Health During Career Transition”, April was very open about her own struggles and journey with mental health. She shares how many people have only seen her as an athlete and how that affected the way she showed up in the world. 

“For so long, all I've known how to be is 'April Sykes'. I never knew how to be 'April'. April Sykes is a brand, nobody really knows April and who April actually is. That's something I’ve gotten better at expressing.”

On our “The Importance of Mental Health for Athletes” panel at our 2021 Athlete Identity and Mental Health Summit, April opened up about the importance of being able to ask for help and admit that you are struggling. 

“We have to be able to be vulnerable. I've grown to appreciate my vulnerability, and I've been able to express it with others. Expressing myself gives people the opportunity to recognize that they go through it too.”

Her clothing brand, Sykes Serenity is another way April raises awareness for and expresses the importance of mental health in our society - through fashion. Her goal is to create a safe environment for people who are dealing with mental health challenges and to educate people in our society on the importance of therapy and focusing on their mental health. April hopes that for those who purchase from her brand, they will grow into loving themselves and protecting their mental health. Grab your Sykes Serenity merch at her website here

Here's our full interview with April Sykes: 

Why did you decide to create Sykes 4 Serenity? 

I created Sykes Serenity to share my personal experience with my mental health challenges in hopes of helping other athletes. My clothing brand works to spread awareness and bring attention to mental health wellness for all.

What did being an athlete teach you about the work you are doing now?

Being an athlete taught me how to face challenges in life by dealing with adversity and learning from those setbacks. It showed me how to continue to fight for myself and others' wellness.

What is the most important thing you did for yourself to start planning for life outside of sports?

I’ve always prided myself on valuing relationships when meeting new people. I’ve been able to travel the world to play my sport, along the way making countless connections with people of different cultures and ethnicities. Even domestically, I’ve always been mindful of valuing people above all else. This has helped me tremendously during my transition.

When and how did you decide you were ready to make the transition out of sports? 

I never really decided. Injuries throughout my career really made the decision for me. As I grew to enjoy life outside of basketball, it made my transition less depressing for me. I used to think life without basketball couldn’t exist, but now I know I’m never really without it. 

I’m always going to be involved in my sport whether it’s through mentoring, developmental coaching or helping players fulfill their dreams to play at the next level. Once I made peace with my own career ending, I was able to understand that my purpose in life can be greater than my ability to play the game.

What advice do you have for athletes around moving on from sports to their next chapter? 

Find your purpose in life and in what drives you to excel and be great beyond your sport. Never allow anyone to box you in and make you think you’re only an athlete. We’re so much more than what we can do in our sports. “Who you are is way greater than what you can do!” 

When you have something in life you genuinely love and that makes you happy and fulfilled, there’s no greater feeling. Some of us are meant to reach a new level in life when we’re challenged the most. Always stay focused on self care and self love in whatever you’re inspiring to be in life.

Thank you April for your work to support the athlete community and for being an outspoken advocate for mental health. We are so proud to highlight you as our December Athlete of the Month.

Be sure to check out April’s website here to learn more and grab your tee to support her mission.