Landon Denker, a junior at The Lovett School, understands first-hand not only how an injury can sideline an athlete, but also how their mental state is affected.
He launched his successful website, FiveStar Comeback (www.fivestarcomeback.com), at the beginning of the 2022-23 school year to provide mental health resources and stories of inspiration to high school student-athletes recovering from an injury.
In addition to providing direct links to the 988 national suicide and crisis hotline, a national network of sports psychologists, and an opioid treatment program directory, the website has a matching service that aims to connect student-athletes who have experienced similar injuries so peers can share what to expect during the comeback process and know that they are not alone.
“I injured my thumb at one of Lovett’s lacrosse games last year, and I missed the last two games. Sitting on the sidelines and not playing the game caused a lot of anxiety, so I understand how these players must feel. Many injured high school athletes try to seem tough and think that it’s weak to share their mental health struggles, but I believe that the toughest thing you can do is ask for help,” said Denker, a young man wise beyond his years.
Denker, who has played football for seven years and lacrosse for 10, has seen his teammates struggle with mental health issues. He mentioned that one of the reasons he created FiveStar Comeback was because many high school athletes start playing sports at a very young age and become consumed by the sport they love, either playing or watching it all the time.
“Many student-athletes believe their entire self-worth is based on their sport. When they become injured, it becomes devastating for their mental health because their dreams could be in jeopardy. I want them to believe they can turn a setback into a comeback,” he emphasized.
Denker was moved to take action as he witnessed the anxiety and depression his teammates experienced when they were forced to miss practices, games, or an entire season of a sport they love because of an injury.
“I started doing research to gather information on the number of high school athletes injured each year and how many become depressed or anxious as a result. The numbers were astonishing,” Denker shared.
The stories of inspiration found on FiveStar Comeback include athletes from many different sports including football, track, basketball, and soccer. Several of Denker’s teammates have told him how much these pieces have motivated them. Denker himself and several of his friends at Lovett have volunteered to participate in the “Athlete Exchange,” a program that helps injured athletes find their footing again after an injury that has affected them psychologically.
To generate awareness of FiveStar Comeback, Denker has utilized social media, including his Twitter account, @5StarComeback; reached out to the Georgia High School Sports Association, which represents more than 600 schools across Georgia; and emailed media throughout the state. He was recently named one of “20 under 20” by Neighborhood Newspapers for giving back to the community in a significant and meaningful way.
Looking ahead, Denker plans to launch a portal on FiveStar Comeback to educate coaches, trainers, and teammates on how to facilitate the mental and physical comeback of athletes on their teams. The portal will be launched in fall 2023, in time for the next school year.
Landon is the son of Karen and Steve Denker, who reside in Smyrna. They are members of The Temple.